The Act of Killing: Reflections on Victims and Victimizers

I recently subscribed to Foreign Policy and just the other day got the first print edition. There is something pleasant and old-fashioned about getting a journal in hardcopy. Unfortunately this month’s issue isn’t online yet for some inexplicable reason, which is unfortunate because I was frankly startled and encouraged by an exchange between Joshua Oppenheimer and David Rieff. Both men have done work on the subject of genocide, international affairs, and humanitarian aid. While Rieff has written some books, Oppenheimer may be the better known of the two as his chilling documentary The Act of Killing was nominated for Best Documentary in 2012. All that to say, here’s some excerpts and thoughts from an exchange between Oppenheimer and Rieff.

Joshua Oppenheimer:  The task of cinema in intervening in and exploring theses issues is to actually immerse us in these problems… Most human rights documentaries… replicate that most basic form of narrative escapism, dividing the world into good guys and bad guys. That is reassuring because we inevitably identify with the good guys. But it’s problematic because it makes it difficult to understand—not in the sense to excuse, but to understand how human being do these sort of things to each other … If we don’t accept the uncomfortable proposition that every perpetrator of virtually every act of evil in our history has been a human being like us, then we actually foreclose the possibility of understanding how we do this to one another and therefore make it impossible to figure out we might prevent these things.

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The New Atheists (Mis)Use of History (Stupid or Sinister?)

Those in the West tend to favor the pronouncements of scientists too much. While works on theology written by scientists (e.g Dawkins, The God Delusion) are praised despite their theological vacuity, there is a general skepticism about non-scientists making any sort of claim on science that diverge from the scientific mainstream. This double-standard that privileges the scientist also permits that profession to write “reputable” histories as well; for example, the scientist Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel is widely acclaimed (by Bill Gates no less!) despite the fact that its thesis is historically dubious. This is not merely a science vs. theology issue. The conflict runs deeper:  science has accrued such a bloated reputation that people too often thoughtlessly embrace books, articles, and shows merely because they feature a man with a Ph.D. in biology. Little else can explain the popularity of the New Atheists. They are scientists, so we must give them credence, even when they begin speaking to matters out of their field of study. This is an intellectual state of affairs that bodes poorly for culture at large. The minute one sort of knowledge begins to trump all others you get a myopic view that blinds more than it enlightens. (The writer would also like to point out that such a critique is equally applicable to religious fundamentalists).

The West’s embrace of science has led to the inability to identify the sketchiness of the New Atheists’  historical rhetoric (among other things), which is something I intend to explore here by considering their metahistory (a grand theory of history and where it’s going) and then a specific example of Christopher Hitchens’ specious historical rhetoric in support of that metahistory.

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The Tow Line

There is a drowned boy on the beach in red and blue and his skin is pale,

We feel remorse at such a body: small and wet and frail.

But there is a line which runs back from him, back through murky waters.

Back to the crown above Africa, a crown of bones, a place of slaughter.

There the great Turk bombed the Kurds, although they fought the ones in black.

But we sat in silence saying nothing of the unwarranted attack.

But still the line runs on.

The man against his people made war, yet we postured ‘gainst the eastern sons.

They asked for help, and we sent them guns, guns which went to the black ones.

But still the line runs on.

They cast about in their streets and cried for freedom, and we joined them in the call.

But all we had was one red line when the bombs began to fall.

But still the line runs on.

We pulled down the statues and raged in rubble for freedom, or so we said.

Yet we could not count the cost of how many would be dead.

But still the line runs on.

It runs and runs and still it runs, yes still the line runs on.

And we stand as Argus with no Io, eyes that watch and rove and weep.

But do we see that thin tow line that runs into the deep?

Eugene Debs and American Socialism: A View from the Mountain

“Some part of the beholder, even some vital part, seems to escape through the loose grating of his ribs as he ascends. . . There is less of substantial thought and fair understanding in him, than in the plains where men inhabit.” -Henry David Thoreau

The above quote comes from Thoreau’s journey to the summit of mount Ktaadn, an existentially significant experience for the man. When he reached the top he was unable to gain any advantage of vision because of the heavy cloud cover. I find his language in the quote and the circumstances of it very significant. I think it says a great deal about perspective and how it is incumbent on circumstance. It is important to keep this general theme in mind, and I will come back to the concept at length.

There is no better day than Labor Day to explore the origins of socialist theory and its aims in nineteenth century America. I have read a fair amount from socialists both old and more contemporary and I find myself unable to be swept up into the fervor, for it is very much a movement based on constant revolutionary action; the American father Eugene Debs makes it very clear in much of his writing. I do not find the aims of socialism distasteful, since the cause cited is usually provision for every human and egalitarian respect and ownership of all property and the means of production. It is a noble goal, but nobility does not necessitate feasibility. If that were the case, then the Utopian Socialists would have been a world-sweeping movement and the oceans would have turned into lemonade as Charles Fourier Claimed. In order to get a complete view of socialism, I think it is important to first investigate the influences for the philosophy.

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Childhood: a Requiem, or Slender Man Unbound

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“Don’t be afraid, I’m only a little kitty cat,” said twelve year old Morgan Geyser as she stabbed her friend, Bella, over and over, damaging several vital organs. Morgan and her friend Anissa (who was present for the attack) led the desperately wounded Bella deeper into the Wisconsin woods and left her there to die. Lisa Miller, reporting on the stabbings over a year after (they occurred on May 30, 2014 – Miller’s article came out last Tuesday) in New York Magazine Online, describes Morgan and Anissa’s post-stabbing activities as such: “[T]hey wandered around Waukesha [WI] for a couple of hours, crying and singing and wilting in the heat, until they were picked up by police as they sat in the grass near an entrance to the interstate.”

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Bare Breasts or Social Services?

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A couple weeks ago I was wandering through Times Square with a friend when I got an eyeful of voluptuous, spar-spangled breasts. Apparently this is a thing now, women painting themselves red, white, and blue and clad in essentially nothing else. Of course, people are taking notice (how could they not?). New York City is thinking about curtailing the exhibitionism, and predictably some women are howling about their freedom of self-expression. They ask, if the Naked Cowboy is OK, why can’t topless women do their thing and make money off of photos? The cry for unfettered bosoms in one of the most visited places on earth takes earlier anti-bra (boob jail) feminism one leap further. The irony is that these women, so spiteful to older sensibilities, choose Old Glory as their visage. And yet they are also paragons of America’s sexualized, capitalistic culture as they wrap themselves in the flag and make money off of it. God bless America and her holy sacraments of sex and capitalism.

Yet why is New York City’s bleeding-heart liberal mayor, Bill de Blasio, even considering to interfere? Continue reading

Feeling the Bern: Up and Down Sanders’ Weak-Kneed Play for the Poor and Desperate

While neither trying too hard, nor trying too little, we allow ourselves reckless observations about the sensationalism and mind-numbing echoes of a thousand voices screaming at us constantly. Dragged between war, drugs, sex, love, peace, religion, politics, and money, we somehow catch the drift of an overpowering stench. Transparent Eye-balls were gouged out long ago and have been rotting in a corner ever since. Just like Icarus soaring for the sun, we sought to catch the glorious, ethereal rays and boast of our power to the universe. But we didn’t create, or even harness this overpowering spotlight — we were blasted by it and told to reflect it every which way. No filters, no blinders, and no breaks. Pure, unadulterated sunlight, bombasting our brains and airwaves until we had soaked in every square inch of propaganda, only to start oozing it out ourselves.

The Mangy Dogs of Main Street

I was at a political forum last week, and a GOP candidate for president was speaking to a packed hall. Besides the rip-roaring applause, there was booing from two kids who were preaching the gospel truth of free higher education and climate change. I’m in a unique position because I know folks on both sides of the spectrum. Many personal acquaintances are young, kicking into college and the workplace for the first time. My professional life services multi-millionaires on a daily basis NOT A PROSTITUTE…, and the stories of how they made their millions are about as diverse as you can imagine. Truckdrivers, mailmen, real estate tycoons, and heirs of inheritances — not all of them earned their dollars with blood and sweat, but the vast majority of them did earn their fortune themselves.

Social Justice seeks a shocking disambiguation in the war between classes, where we can simply label all of mankind as haves and have-nots. Continue reading

Moral Atrophy, Ethics, and the Panopticon

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I have always found the idea of the Panopticon wildly fascinating as a practical concept and an exercise in game theory. For those unfamiliar, it was an architectural design drafted by Jeremy Bentham in the late 1700’s. The general concept is that an observer sits in the center of a ring full of columbarium style niches, and in each cell is one prisoner or worker. (There were various proposed applications) The inmates are unable to see the observer, so they must assume that they are being watched at every moment. He called it “A new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind, in a quantity hitherto without example.” The observer cannot look at every inmate simultaneously, so an element of the unknown is introduced. The physical power of watching becomes transcendent and absorbed into the psyche of the inmate who will behave as though they are being always watched.

While on a phone conversation with Bellewether some months ago and talking about young people and students, he explained that he described to them maturity or adulthood as doing what is expected even when nobody is watching. I would tend to agree with that sentiment. Children behave not because it is in their nature but in order to stave off punishment. A child unobserved and left to their own devices is one of the most destructive forces in the universe.

I have been mulling these implications over for a while. Continue reading