Subject: ON THE PROCRUSTEAN BED AND OTHER IDEOLOGICAL WORKOUTS.
14 October 2009
Dear Colleagues and Friends of CEIMSA,
The conférence de presse last night at the Decitre bookstore in downtown Grenoble attracted more than 30 people, many of whom engaged in animated discussions of some of the more critical ideas in our new book, Le patriarcat et les institutions américaines(2009). For more than two hours we exchanged ideas on the function of "consumerism" in gender relationships, on "illegitimate hierarchies," at every level of society, on "scapegoatism," on "micro and macro politics," on "gender as biological or sociological description ?," and on many other topics concerning patriarchal societies. We invite CEIMSA readers to visit our web site at The University of California, where photos from this historic Grenoble conference on 13 October are available. (See the bottom of the CEIMSA page, Colloques/Conférences, for a view of the photos from this meeting at the Decitre Bookstore Café.)
The fallacy of essentialism has been widely recognized in the social sciences as a political form of violence that serves to perpetuate the status quo. By reducing a person or an event to an abstracted set of particulars, the complexity of the reality is violated and dialectical inner-relationships go unrecognized. This logical positivist approach to reality is necessarily distorted, and the results of such falsifications are often ruinous to the parties involved. As a departure from such metaphysical practices --which date back to Plato's theory of ideal forms-- dialectical materialism emphasizes the provisional and conventional nature of knowledge. (Please see Bertell Ollman's work on dialectical materialism, for an easily accessible discussion of this method of scientific investigation.)
English empiricism, Franz Naumann has written, like American pragmatism, French rationalism, and German idealism, were all the enemies of German national socialism. The political patterns in post-depression Germany which passed as a system were, in fact, distortions of a number of theories which were opportunistically adopted to buy time on a mission hurtling toward self-destruction. The Third Reich wanted nothing less than what the other Empires, such as Great Britain, enjoyed, i.e. a cheap labor market beyond its national borders, ready access to land and raw materials, a commodities market monopoly, and a Keynesian economic relationship between the corporate elite and the state. Mass murder and genocide for all empires were then regarded simply as "collateral damage," as they are today.
Rather than demonizing German fascism we must recognize the similarities between this system and the structure of contemporary capitalism, thereby learning how these patterns emerge from within pre-existing capitalist relationships.
The 5 items below offer CEIMSA readers insights into contemporary American political culture, and speak to the imperialist constraints with which we all have been carefully taught to live, unfortunately. . . .
Item A., is a essay on "Columbus Day 2009," by investigagive reporters Dahr Jamail and Jason Coppola.
Item B., is an article by John Ross on violence and counter-violence in the contemporary world of "Crisis Capitalism."
Item C. is a New York Times article sent to us by New York City Professor of Politics John Gerassi on Honduran coup d'etat as a potential instrument for future U.S. control of Latin America.
Item D. is an interview sent to us by Electric Politics founder, George Kenney, discussion social equality with Richard Wilkinson, founder of Equality Trust, which hopes to promote egalitarian policies in the UK.
Item E., is an essay by Massachusetts Professor of Economics Richard Wolff on "Class War".
And finally, we conclude this CEIMSA Bulletin with Amerindian song-writer and singer, Buffy Sainte-Marie, on "Columbus Day-2009" :
In a Democracy Now! special, an hour of conversation and music with Cree Indian singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie. In the turbulent 1960s, she was just out of college but already famous for her beautiful voice and moving lyrics in songs like “Universal Soldier” and “Now that the Buffalo’s Gone.” Over the years, Buffy Sainte-Marie has worked with the American Indian Movement, but also with Sesame Street, and even Hollywood, winning an Academy Award for the song “Up Where We Belong” in 1982. She’s won international recognition for her music, has a PhD in fine arts, and began a foundation for American Indian Education that she remains closely involved with. We speak with the folk icon about her life, her music, censorship, and her singing and speaking out about the struggles of Native American peoples for the past four decades.
Francis McCollum Feeley
Professor of American Studies/
Director of Research
Université Stendhal - Grenoble 3
from Dahr Jamail :
Date: 12 October 2009
Subject: The Myth of "America".
Happy Columbus Day
Columbus sailed the ocean blue in Fourteen Hundred and Ninety Two ...
May the spirit of adventure and discovery always be with you.
Wishing you a great Columbus Day
- Columbus Day greeting card
To mark Columbus Day In 2004, the Medieval and Renaissance Center in UCLA published the final volume of a compendium of Columbus-era documents. Its general editor, Geoffrey Symcox, leaves little room for ambivalence when he says, "This is not your grandfather's Columbus.... While giving the brilliant mariner his due, the collection portrays Columbus as an unrelenting social climber and self-promoter who stopped at nothing - not even exploitation, slavery, or twisting biblical scripture - to advance his ambitions.... Many of the unflattering documents have been known for the last century or more, but nobody paid much attention to them until recently. The fact that Columbus brought slavery, enormous exploitation or devastating diseases to the Americas used to be seen as a minor detail - if it was recognized at all - in light of his role as the great bringer of white man's civilization to the benighted idolatrous American continent. But to historians today this information is very important. It changes our whole view of the enterprise."
But does it?
"They ... brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks' bells," Christopher Columbus wrote in his logbook in 1495. "They willingly traded everything they owned.... They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features.... They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane.... They would make fine servants.... With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want. Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold."
Catholic priest Bartolome de las Casas, in the multi-volume "History of the Indies" published in 1875, wrote, "... Slaves were the primary source of income for the Admiral (Columbus) with that income he intended to repay the money the Kings were spending in support of Spaniards on the Island. They provide profit and income to the Kings. (The Spaniards were driven by) insatiable greed ... killing, terrorizing, afflicting, and torturing the native peoples ... with the strangest and most varied new methods of cruelty."
This systematic violence was aimed at preventing "Indians from daring to think of themselves as human beings. (The Spaniards) thought nothing of knifing Indians by tens and twenties and of cutting slices off them to test the sharpness of their blades.... My eyes have seen these acts so foreign to human nature, and now I tremble as I write."
Father Fray Antonio de Montesino, a Dominican preacher, in December 1511 said this in a sermon that implicated Christopher Columbus and the colonists in the genocide of the native peoples:
"Tell me by what right of justice do you hold these Indians in such a cruel and horrible servitude? On what authority have you waged such detestable wars against these people who dealt quietly and peacefully on their own lands? Wars in which you have destroyed such an infinite number of them by homicides and slaughters never heard of before ..."
In 1892, the National Council of Churches, the largest ecumenical body in the United States, is known to have exhorted Christians to refrain from celebrating the Columbus quincentennial, saying, "What represented newness of freedom, hope, and opportunity for some was the occasion for oppression, degradation and genocide for others."
Yet America continues to celebrate "Columbus Day."
That Americans do so in the face of all evidence that there is little in the Columbian legacy that merits applause makes it easier for them to avoid taking responsibility for their own actions, or the actions of their government. Perhaps there is good reason.
In "Columbus Day: A Clash of Myth and History," journalist and media critic Norman Solomon discusses how historians who deal with recorded evidence are frequently depicted as "politically correct" revisionists while the general populace is manipulated into holding onto myths that brazenly applaud inconceivable acts of violence of men against fellow humans.
For those of us who are willing to ask how it becomes possible to manipulate the population of a country into accepting atrocity, the answer is not hard to find. It requires normalizing the inconceivable and drumming it in via the socio-cultural environment until it is internalized and embedded in the individual and collective consciousness. The combined or singular deployment of the media, the entertainment industry, mainstream education or any other agency, can achieve the desired result of convincing people that wars can be just, and strikes can be surgical, as long as it is the US that is doing it.
Never has this process been as blatant and overt as in recent years when the time has come for America to legitimize the idea of global domination. A Department of Defense report titled Joint Vision 2020 calls for the US military to be capable of "full spectrum dominance" of the entire planet. That means total domination and control of all land, sea, air, space and information.
That's a lot of control.
How might this become accepted as "Policy" and remain unquestioned by almost an entire population?
The one word key to that is: Myths. The explanation is that the myths the United States is built upon have paved the way for the perpetuation of all manner of violations.
Among the first of these is that of Christopher Columbus. In school we were taught of his bravery, courage and perseverance. In a speech in 1989, George H.W. Bush proclaimed: "Christopher Columbus not only opened the door to a New World, but also set an example for us all by showing what monumental feats can be accomplished through perseverance and faith."
Never mind that the monumental feats mainly comprised part butchery, part exploitation and the largest part betrayal of host populations of the "New World."
On their second arrival in Hispaniola, Haiti, Columbus's crew took captive roughly two thousand local villagers who had arrived to greet them. Miguel Cuneo, a literate crew member, wrote, "When our caravels ... were to leave for Spain, we gathered ... one thousand six hundred male and female persons of those Indians, and these we embarked in our caravels on February 17, 1495.... For those who remained, we let it be known (to the Spaniards who manned the island's fort) in the vicinity that anyone who wanted to take some of them could do so, to the amount desired, which was done."
In 1500, Columbus wrote to a friend, "A hundred castellanoes (a Spanish coin) are as easily obtained for a woman as for a farm, and it is very general and there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from nine to ten (years old) are now in demand."
Such original "monumental feats" as were accomplished by our nation's heroes and role models were somewhat primitive. Local inhabitants who resisted Columbus and his crew had their ears or nose cut off, were attacked by dogs, skewered with pikes and shot. Reprisals were so severe that many of the natives committed mass suicide and women began practicing abortions in order not to leave children enslaved. The population of Haiti at the time of Columbus's arrival was between 1.5 million and 3 million. Sixty years later, every single native had been murdered.
Today, "perseverance and faith" allow us to accomplish much more and with far greater impunity. The US continues to liberate Iraq and Afghanistan with 2,000-pound bombs in civilian areas and purge Pakistan via drone attacks on weddings.
Neither case is of isolated whimsy. It was and remains policy.
In "A People's History of the United States," celebrated historian Howard Zinn describes how Arawak men and women emerged from their villages to greet their guests with food, water and gifts when Columbus landed at the Bahamas. But Columbus wanted something else. "Gold is most excellent; gold constitutes treasure; and he who has it does all he wants in the world, and can even lift souls up to Paradise," he wrote to the king and queen of Spain in 1503.
Rather than gold, however, Columbus only found slaves when he arrived on his second visit with seventeen ships and over 1,200 men. Ravaging various Caribbean islands, Columbus took natives as captives as he sailed. Of these he picked 500 of the best specimens and shipped them back to Spain. Two hundred of these died en route, while the survivors were put up for sale by the archdeacon of the town where they landed.
Columbus needed more than mere slaves to sell, and Zinn's account informs us, "... desperate to pay back dividends to those who had invested, (he) had to make good his promise to fill the ships with gold. In the province of Cicao on Haiti, where he and his men imagined huge gold fields to exist, they ordered all persons fourteen years or older to collect a certain quantity of gold every three months. When they brought it, they were given copper tokens to hang around their necks. Indians found without a copper token had their hands cut off and bled to death.
"The Indians had been given an impossible task. The only gold around was bits of dust garnered from the streams. So they fled, were hunted down with dogs, and were killed."
As a younger priest, the aforementioned De las Casas had participated in the conquest of Cuba and owned a plantation where natives worked as slaves before he found his conscience and gave it up. His first-person accounts reveal that the Spaniards "thought nothing of knifing Indians by tens and twenties and of cutting slices off them to test the sharpness of their blades. They forced their way into native settlements, slaughtering everyone they found there, including small children, old men, pregnant women, and even women who had just given birth. They hacked them to pieces, slicing open their bellies with their swords as though they were sheep herded into a pen. They even laid wagers on whether they could manage to slice a man in two at a stroke, or cut an individual's head from his body, or disembowel him with a single blow of their axes. They grabbed suckling infants by the feet and, ripping them from their mothers' breasts, dashed them headlong against the rocks. Others, laughing and joking all the while, threw them over their shoulders into a river, shouting: 'Wriggle, you litle perisher.' They slaughtered anyone on their path ..."
Full Spectrum Dominance
In a letter to the Spanish court dated February 15, 1492, Columbus presented his version of full spectrum dominance: "to conquer the world, spread the Christian faith and regain the Holy Land and the Temple Mount."
With this radical ideology, Las Casas records, "They spared no one, erecting especially wide gibbets on which they could string their victims up with their feet just off the ground and then burned them alive thirteen at a time, in honour of our Saviour and the twelve Apostles."
About incorporating these accounts in his book, Zinn explained to Truthout, "My point is not to grieve for the victims and denounce the executioners. Those tears, that anger, cast into the past, deplete our moral energy for the present ... but I do remember a statement I once read: The cry of the poor is not always just, but if you don't listen to it, you will never know what justice is."
Author journalist Chris Hedges believes that glorification of (the atrocities of) Columbus is one of several myths that sustain the illusions that justify the imperial visions of the United States.
In conversation with Truthout, he said, "It's really easy to build a holocaust museum that condemns Germans. It's another issue to build a museum that confronts our own genocide, the genocide that was perpetrated by our own ancestors towards Native Americans or towards African-Americans. I am all for documenting and remembering the [World War II] Holocaust, but the disparity between the reality of the [World War II] Holocaust or the reality of the genocide as illustrated in the [World War II] Holocaust museum and the utter historical amnesia in the Native American museum in Washington is really frightening and shows a complete inability in a public arena for us to examine who we are and what we've done."
Noam Chomsky holds a similar view. "We have [World War II] Holocaust museums all over the place about what the Germans did," Chomsky told Truthout. "Do we have one about what we did? I mean about slavery, about the Native American population? It's not that the people involved didn't know about it. John Quincy Adams, a great grand strategist, who had a major role in these atrocities, in his later years when he reflected on them, referred to that hapless race of North Americans, which we are exterminating with such insidious cruelty. They knew exactly what they were doing. But it doesn't matter. It's us."
Explaining how the mythology of a country becomes its historic reality, Chomsky stated, "If you are well-educated, you can internalize that and it. That's part of what a good education is about, enabling people to live with those contradictions. And you see it very consistently. In the case of, say, the Iraq war, try to find somebody who had a principled objection. Actually you can, occasionally, but it's suppressed."
Historical revisionism and amnesia are critical for nation-building, opines Paul Woodward, the writer and author of the blog "War In Context". He elaborates, "Every nation is subject to its own particular form of historical amnesia. Likewise, imperial powers have their own grandiose revisionist tendencies. Yet there is another form of historical denial particular to recently invented nations whose myth-making efforts are inextricably bound together with the process of the nation's birth ...
"Whereas older nations are by and large populated by people whose ancestral roots penetrated that land well before it took on the clear definition of a nation state, the majority of the people in an invented nation - such as the United States or Israel - have ancestry that inevitably leads elsewhere. This exposes the ephemeral link between the peoples' history and the nation's history. Add to that the fact that such nations came into being through grotesque acts of dispossession and it is clear that a psychological drive to hold aloft an atemporal exceptionalism becomes an existential necessity. National security requires that the past be erased."
Robert Jensen is an author and teaches media law, ethics and politics at the University of Texas. In an essay where he justifies his decision to not celebrate Thanksgiving as a holiday, he says, "Imagine that Germany won World War II and that a Nazi regime endured for some decades, eventually giving way to a more liberal state with a softer version of German-supremacist ideology. Imagine that a century later Germans celebrated a holiday offering a whitewashed version of German/Jewish history that ignored that holocaust and the deep anti-Semitism of the culture. Imagine that the holiday provided a welcomed time for families and friends to gather and enjoy food and conversation. Imagine that businesses, schools and government offices closed on this day. What would we say about such a holiday? Would we not question the distortions woven into such a celebration? Would we not demand a more accurate historical account? Would we not, in fact, denounce such a holiday as grotesque?"
Of course we would.
But our story is different, and once again this year, on October 12, we will once again "Hail Columbus."
Bhaswati Sengupta contributed to this report.
** Dahr Jamail's MidEast Dispatches **
** Visit Dahr Jamail's website http://dahrjamailiraq.com **
Dahr Jamail's new book, The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, is now available.
Order the book here http://tinyurl.com/cnlgyu
As one of the first and few unembedded Western journalists to report the truth about how the United States has destroyed, not liberated, Iraqi society in his book Beyond the Green Zone, Jamail now investigates the under-reported but growing antiwar resistance of American GIs. Gathering the stories of these courageous men and women, Jamail shows us that far from "supporting our troops," politicians have betrayed them at every turn. Finally, Jamail shows us that the true heroes of the criminal tragedy of the Iraq War are those brave enough to say no.
from John Ross :
Date: 9 October 2009
Subject: Blindman's Buff #260.
The following article presents information that may be of interest to those interested in the forms that activism is taking in the contemporary anarchist movement.
"THE BREATH OF THE REVOLUTION":
WAVE OF ANARCHIST BOMBINGS HIT MEXICO - SECURITY FORCES ON RED ALERT
from Rick Wolff :
Date: 21 September 2009
Subject: Class War.
by Rick Wolff
US workers' real wages (money wages adjusted for the prices workers actually pay) have not risen from their levels in the 1970s. Recent Bureau of Labor Statistics data confirm that real wages continued to stagnate through 2009. Across the same 30-year period, the productivity of labor kept rising: the average worker produced ever more output for the average employer to sell. Thus, capitalists' revenues rose relative to workers' wages.
Capitalists used those rising revenues to intensify class war on US workers. First, capitalists weakened their adversaries by lending one portion of their rising revenues back to US workers as high interest "consumer loans." Faced with flat wages, workers could only finance the homes, children's schooling, medical treatments, etc. that they needed either by borrowing or by sending more family members, especially women, into more paid employment. While these developments benefited capitalists, they added serious interpersonal tensions to worker households struggling with mounting debts. Over recent decades, workers concentrated on coping with these problems; they spent less time and energy on civic affairs, union activities, their children's school problems, etc. They bitterly resent anything the government might do, like tax increases, that would make coping still more difficulty. As one famous commentator wrote about the turning inward of working people, they took to "bowling alone."
Second, capitalists used their rising revenues to finance (1) the relocation of production and other facilities outside the US and (2) computerization of production. By globalizing, corporations threatened employees and unions that rising wages or other job improvements could mean job loss. By computerization, fewer workers would be needed and their bargaining power with capitalists weakened.
Third, capitalist boards of directors used another portion of rising revenues to raise salaries and bonuses for upper-level managers (including themselves), people who contribute significant sums to politicians favoring conservative, pro-business laws and regulations. Corporations and upper-level managers thereby increased the dependence of politicians on their coordinated largesse. At the same time, many overstressed workers disengaged from political affairs. US politics increasingly became an extremely expensive spectator sport. Official politics shifted rightward even when mass popular opinion, when polled, clearly pointed elsewhere. Politicians understood that their careers and policies could not survive the money flood that capitalist corporations and rich upper-management personnel could pour into campaigns against them. They reacted to facts that workers increasingly did not learn about, let alone finance and participate in, politics. They were outspent by their class opponents and they had lost confidence in the ability or will of the Democratic Party and the unions to advance their class interests.
Thus, while majorities supported ending involvement in Iraq, large US forces remain there. A majority now opposes the Afghanistan occupation, but the administration proceeds. A majority favored government help for ordinary people alongside helping banks, insurance companies, etc., in the economic crisis, yet we have no real solution for the foreclosure disaster and no public employment program for the millions laid off by private employers. A majority favor medical insurance for all and lower-cost medical care, yet the emerging legislation falls far short of that. Majorities favor strict limits and controls on private funding of political campaigns, but the reverse happens.
In class war, capitalists deflect their adversaries' anger and bitterness lest such feelings mobilize workers. Heavy spending on publicity, think tanks, mass media, celebrity spokespersons, and academics achieves this by blaming government, not capitalists, for workers' difficulties. Consider the current campaign, financed chiefly by private medical insurance corporations, against extending public coverage to millions of medically uninsured citizens. It demonizes that extension as "imposing socialism." The campaign taps citizens' fears that another government program will cost them. It helps people "forget" (if they knew) that in 2008 some 87.4 million US citizens already had and strongly supported public medical insurance (Medicare, Medicaid, and the military's VA system). It omits any mention that between 2004 and 2008, the median family deductible for in-network medical services in most private medical insurances provided by employers rose from $1,000 to $1,850. By suppressing awareness of rising private costs while exaggerating risks of rising public costs, the private insurers' campaign alarms citizens into opposing the extension of government insurance. For the same reasons, few Americans grasp that the US private medical system is much more expensive than public systems in many other countries (that also deliver better public health); the World Health Organization ranks the US as 37th in the quality of its health system (France ranks #1).
Yet this class war -- focused on shifting income, wealth, and power from workers to capitalists -- cannot take from workers their most powerful weapon. Workers produce and deliver to their adversaries the resources then used against them -- that difference between their productivity for employers and their wages from employers. The dilemma of capitalism is this contradiction: the workers that capitalists hire, exploit, and struggle to dominate are the same workers on whom they depend for the means to hire, exploit, and dominate.
Class war flows from capitalism's deeply embedded structure that pits capitalists against workers. The 1970s end of rising real wages pumped additional resources into capitalists' hands to step up class war while it weakened workers. But class war was not only a result, it also helped cause real wages to stop rising in the first place. Capitalism always drives employers to seek lower wages, in effect to wage class war to secure lower wages. However, labor shortages inside the US had long frustrated employers (even when they used massive immigration waves, automation, and other weapons of class war). When, by the 1970s, those conditions finally shifted (computerization and globalization reduced the demand for labor while women and new immigration increased the supply of laborers), employers stopped raising real wages with all the results discussed above.
In times of prosperity as in times of crisis, capitalism entails class war. Only system change will end that. Capitalists have fewer reasons to change the system.
Workers remain, as always, in position to make the break. Meanwhile, they suffer the consequences of not doing so.