The ascension of Obama, the Apotheosis of Marketing American-Style, has given rise to what appears to be a paradox. On one hand, Obama — the first black president, who intentionally and with studied care adopted every policy and opinion of the white, male ruling class, since that remains the most certain path to power in the United States — represents the triumph of public relations. What had been abhorrent and detestable under Bush becomes acceptable under Obama, at least to the extent that notable opposition has now absented itself altogether from the political scene. This was always the singular danger in Obama’s candidacy, as a few of us had predicted. But almost no one heeded the warning. Americans simply and with immeasurable simple-mindedness adore the marketing. Throw an unending stream of shockingly empty, windy phrases at them, and they will collapse in paroxysms of self-induced ecstasy — provided the person doing it is of a class they view with particular favor. They will be more than happy to supply the nonexistent content out of their own oversized vanity and preferred self-conception.
At the same time, as the Death State enters its late stages, the entire sphere of public relations steadily diminishes in significance to the ruling class. As I noted about the Gulf of Mexico catastrophe, the ruling class cannot now be troubledeven to pretend to give a damn about the ungraspable degree of damage they cause to huge numbers of human beings and other living creatures, and to the planet generally. What is true of the Gulf crisis is true of the ruling class’s other major projects. The U.S. government systematically murders innocent civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan? Does anyone care? Not that you’d notice or, more importantly, that the ruling class would notice or have reason to be concerned about. They know most Americans won’t do a damned thing about any of it. Are Americans in significant numbers going to say, “No”? Are they going to choose non-cooperation? No, they are not. Why expend any effort at all on marketing at this point? It’s entirely unnecessary.
So these two facets of the problem might appear to be at odds with one another. But if you consider the matter a bit further, you’ll appreciate how well they complement each other. Obama alone — Obama as the symbol of “the end of racism” in America, as the transcendence of the American project over its longstanding defects and failures — provides all the cover that is required. What were war crimes under Bush can’t be war crimes under Obama. Why not? Becausehe’s Obama! If you object that the explanation can’t be that simple (and, yes, simple-minded), I will urge you to consult the news more regularly. I will urge you to revise downward your conception of just how deeply idiotic Americans will make themselves. This is especially true with certain segments of the political yammering class. Speaking of empty and enormously destructive symbolism…
Here is today’s sign on the road down the slope toward the Valley of Ultimate Stupidity and Loathsomeness:
The Supreme Court has upheld a U.S. law that bars “material support” to foreign terrorist organizations, rejecting a free speech challenge from humanitarian aid groups.
The court ruled 6-3 Monday that the government may prohibit all forms of aid to designated terrorist groups, even if the support consists of training and advice about entirely peaceful and legal activities.
IOZ is certainly correct that, since the U.S. government now explicitly claims “the right to have you killed” — and anyone else at all, I would add for clarity and emphasis — “without any legal recourse or sanction and with no process of law or investigation necessary to legitimize your death,” it would be passing strange to evince spluttering moral outrage about acomparatively minor procedural matter. If the Death Statecan murder anyone it chooses, whenever it chooses, simply because that is what it chooses to do, debates about what constitutes “material support” to what are allegedly “terrorist organizations” approach luxuries in which it is almost unseemly to indulge.
Still, the Supreme Court ruling is shockingly wrong. But this is hardly news for the Supreme Court today, or for the Supreme Court on many, many days in the past, let us not forget. I will offer a brief word, not about the “material support” aspect of this egregious error (as bad as that element is), but rather about the Death State’s use of the “terrorist organization” designation.
One of the best examples of the entirely instrumental use of this term was recently discussed by Jim Bovard, in an article I excerpted in, “An Evil Monstrosity: Thoughts on the Death State.” You will be hard-pressed to find more than a very few liberals or progressives today who will challenge the liberal orthodoxy about the nobility of the Clinton administration’s war crimes in Yugoslavia. “The U.S. stopped a genocide!,” scream the ignorant propagandists. That’s a lie.But put “humanitarian” before “intervention,” and liberals are stupider than a gnat. We’re back to the problem of “oversized vanity and preferred self-conception.”
But in the article that I excerpted, Bovard writes the following about Clinton’s Yugoslavia policy. I’ve highlighted only the portion that concerns our subject here, but liberals and progressives in particular might consider permitting the truth of all these observations to penetrate their skulls just the tiniest bit:
Bill Clinton has often acted like his 78-day bombing assault on Serbia in 1999 was his finest hour. The State Department was referring to the Kosovo Liberation Army as a terrorist group until 1997. After Clinton decided to attack Serbia, the KLA officially became freedom fighters. The fact that both Serbs and ethnic Albanians were up to their elbows in atrocities was simply brushed aside or denied. After surviving a Senate impeachment trial, Clinton was hellbent on starring in an old-time morality play.
Clinton’s bombing campaign killed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Serb civilians. From intentionally bombing a television station, Belgrade neighborhoods, power stations, bridges (regardless of the number of people on them at the time), to “accidentally” bombing a bus (killing 47 people), a passenger train, marketplaces, hospitals, apartment buildings, and the Chinese embassy, the rules of engagement for U.S. bombers guaranteed that many innocent people would be killed.
In his anniversary op-ed, Clinton declared that “without the law there is no freedom.” But the law did not stop, or even slow, Clinton from raining death on Belgrade. Clinton brazenly violated the War Powers Act, the 1973 law which required the president to get authorization from Congress for committing U.S. troops to any combat situation that lasted more than 60 days. The House of Representatives refused to endorse Clinton’s warring. But, on Serbia and many other issues, Clinton acted as if his moral mission exempted him from all restraints, legal and otherwise.
The shifting and even inversion of labels is a device the U.S. government uses whenever its goals change, and when the previous label would prove a hindrance to the policy it has decided upon most recently. What had been a “terrorist organization” is now a group of “freedom fighters,” or vice versa as deemed advisable.
The truth of the label is of no moment whatsoever. When used by governments in this manner, labels are merely signifiers allowing pursuit of the chosen policy to proceed without objection. As in the case of Yugoslavia, almost no one objects or even notices the shift. Americans love the marketing. And then they pretend to react with wonder and astonishment when everything turns to blood-drenched shit. I say “pretend to react” because I find it hard to believe that large numbers of people are actually this profoundly dumb. On some level, they know they’ve been fooled again — or, to be more accurate, that they’ve allowed themselves to be fooled again — but they don’t want to admit it. Better, they think, to sheepishly acknowledge stupidity than to confront the lies they so enthusiastically tell themselves.
The Death State uses the “terrorist organization” label today whenever it is convenient to do so: that is, when that usage makes it easier to pursue its chosen policy. But ultimately, it pursues that policy not because of facts or the truth of the situation, but because that is what it has chosen to do. In part, its policies are in the pursuit of greater power, control and wealth — but of equal or even greater significance is that the State pursues the policies it does because it can.This underscores the unanswerable power of the State; from this perspective, which is the perspective of those deeplydamaged people who seek political power on the national stage, power is the not the means to another end. Power isthe end. The ruling class knows it, and they know you will do and believe anything to avoid this particular truth.
Here’s another example. You might want to follow the argument preceding this short passage — but, oh dear me, it’s long and, still worse, complicated. So you probably won’t want to follow it. Bye-bye!
From a lengthy essay about the immense evil of torture (all fully applicable to the current criminal administration), “Lies in the Service of Evil
The crucial point is Foucault’s. Let me rephrase it as follows, in connection with torture specifically.
Torture does not work. Its use permanently damages all those who are tortured, and those who administer the violence. Its “lawful” use profoundly undermines the broader society and democratic institutions in ways that are irreparable. But its persistent, ineradicablefailure is entirely irrelevant for those who seek to consolidate and expand state power. Moreover, its inherent failure underscores their aim: it does not work, everyone knows it does not work, but the state does it because it can.
In this view, power is all, and power is its own justification. It is a simple truth, and a terrible one.
There is the terrible truth about the Death State, offered for your consideration.
Hey, that reminds me. Are there any good shows on TV tonight? Something fun, okay? Really stupid would be good, too.