Passive Voice, George Orwell, General Outrage

Disputes & Brouhaha About Promoting Or Condemning the Passive

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crossposted from Contributoria.com

INITIAL THOUGHTS

To report facts, to explore causes, to traduce complexity so as to reveal what underpins it: these represent just a few of the reasons that written language has such massive potential power for those who would move beyond intuition and belief to a realm of knowledge and understanding. Yet we must admit that another function prevails at times in our linguistic endeavors: to obfuscate reality, to deflect attention, to use nature’s intricacies to deepen incomprehensibility and thereby leave the interpretation and determination of what is happening, as well as what might be necessary to bring about change in the arenas of policy and action, up to those whose ‘stakeholding’ interests are most palpable, easiest to ‘monetize,’ and so on and so forth.

In relation to the first purpose, passive voice construction normally is worse than useless. It hides what the writer seeks to reveal; it evades what the narrative purports to pin down.

In the second case, however, no more perfect vehicle exists than passive voice for seeming to admit and describe and assess, without actually assigning responsibility, determining causation, or explaining how matters have reached particular passes. As noted in the previous installment of the Happy Union Grammar Nerd, such attributes make passive usage ideal for attorneys, propagandists, politicos, diplomats—even criminals who have the necessary sophistication to care about how they express themselves.

Today’s H.U.G.N. episode consists of three primary components, along with the usual concluding sections that provide examples of and alternatives to problematic usage.

  • Initially, we examine a set of contentions that flow from neuroscience, cognitive science, and linguistics, about the likely ‘hard-wired’ preference for passive voice usage in the speech centers of the brain, a deconstruction that concludes that although writing emanates from speech, it is far from precisely the same, so that one may prefer to say, “He was shot,” but persist in making a choice to write either, “The officer shot the young man,” or, “Somebody obviously shot the youth in the leg and then blew his brains out.”
  • The follow-up to this briefing offers readers a chance to ponder George Orwell’s oft-quoted 1946 essay, “Politics and the English Language,” in which the redoubtable storyteller and political scribe denounced usage of the “was-shot” variety, at the same time that his condemnation practically overflowed with just this sort of construction.
  • Finally, some of the hundreds of thousands—or millions—of particular instances of quibbling about this matter appear, a few of which mention Orwell and the anomaly of his insisting that writers ‘do as he said, not as he did.’

As always, this Happy Union Grammar Nerd encourages any reader who cares to do so to challenge this analysis; to present specific examples of problems that seem impossible to solve in this or some other area of style or usage; to share piquant examples or personal experiences of ‘life in the passive lane’ that modern mediation has become.

For those who love data, now the Grammar Nerd presents a factual nexus for folks to consider.   Here, for example, are some author searches that add “passive voice” as an identifier:

  •  ”george orwell” + “passive voice” = 16,700 hits;
  •  “william faulkner” + “passive voice” = 45,800 hits;
  •  “mark twain” + “passive voice” = 197,000 hits;
  •  “sinclair lewis” + “passive voice” = 19,100 hits;
  •  “charles dickens” + “passive voice” = 168,000 hits;
  •  “virginia woolf” + “passive voice” = 93,200 hits;
  •  “jane austen” + “passive voice” = 13,400 hits;
  •  “richard wright” + “passive voice” = 24,000 hits.

As anyone can see, despite the fervor of both the frequent diatribes against and encomiums in favor of Orwell’s work, every other search of writers and “passive voice” that I tried yielded more instances than did an Orwell string, with the exception that Jane Austen’s results contained a few thousand fewer citations.

Meanwhile, googling the essay title alone drew forth 181,000 ‘hits.’ Since Orwell’s attack on passive verbs was such a huge part of his argument, that the initial search above only garnered 16,700 cites seems a little crazy, or in any event implausible.

Finally, the overall level of concern about passive voice is far from paltry. 757,000 articles and such followed from a simple search for “passive voice” alone. Even the more complex search, “passive voice” dispute OR disagreement analysis OR prescription, ended up with 412,000 leads for investigators.

These are not “taylor swift” numbers, but they show a level of interest that is suggestive of some degree of popular, or at least widespread, thinking about these matters. And, as a result of our labors, we now have some more ideas to add to the mix.

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NEUROCIRCUITRY & PASSIVE VERBALS

As last week’s article pointed out, our mental machinery’s proclivities diminish to zero the chance of eliminating the passive voice from speech. In fact, a few recent scientific initiatives —that utilize precise machines to measure the exact location of electrical activity in the brain—argue that we are more or less hard-wired for such locution.

Cornell University has an operation that calls itself the Neurosyntax Imaging Laboratory. Other schools have projects that seek similar understanding with similar tools. Passivity in speech, intone such authorities, is simply inevitable, likely irreversible, perhaps like genetic selection of lying or dissimulation.

Furthermore, without a doubt speech is the basis for writing in similar fashion as listening is the foundation for reading. The authors of the above study suggested that Orwell’s frequent passivity was in one way or another irremediable. They even dragged the estimable E.B. White and his predecessor and collaborator, Mr. Strunk, into the depiction, quoting a line from the Elements of Style that uses passive voice while advising that avoiding its employment would enliven one’s prose.

However, one must recognize that such expert contentions are the consequence of one sort of research, but these brain-nerds are making conclusions about another field of enquiry. While the underpinnings of writing are speech, and some neural circuitry serves both our voices and our scribblings, in no way are these two normal aspects of being powerfully human the same.

Moreover, I have dispositive empirical evidence that eliminating the passive voice is fairly easy, with a few years’ practice. Whether such discipline is apt or pretty is definitely another matter, but in no way can one contend that contextualizing our ideas must make use of passive construction.

In any case, for the past forty years, I have remained a practitioner of “Death to the Passive Voice!” Most of my writing is devoid of it. To activate my texts even more, for an entire year I wrote without using a single “to be” linking verb. Only present progressive helping verbs were permissible in my practice. Therefore, without qualification I can assert, and prove, that ridding oneself of passive writing is entirely manageable, whatever advantages or disadvantages might attend such, depending on one’s perspective, obstinacy or tenacity.

In contemplating passive verbs, readers may listen to a variety of authorities who argue strongly that writers should avoid them wherever possible. My experience demonstrates conclusively that such excision is always doable, definable aspects of the language brain notwithstanding.

And then, we might turn to George Orwell.

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ORWELL’S ESSAY

Only a few style-and-grammar prescriptions are likely to generate as great a scholarly and critical interest as that which “Politics and the English Language” has received. Google estimates a total of just over two-and-a-half million resulting connections if a researcher enters the following slight variation on the title in the Internet giant’s ‘engine:’ “politics of the english language.”

Whatever the plethora of reasons that might engender that level of engagement, the fact is incontrovertible that people “check out this Orwell shit about, you know, ‘Politics and the English Language,’ or more generally ‘the politics of the English language.’” And at least a small chunk of this huge sample—plausibly a majority of entries—nod to or note in some way the matter of passive voice, in passing as it were.

For whatever reason, then, a sizeable number of global citizens, who have interests that bridge ‘politics and the English language,’ find George Orwell’s pronouncements alluring enough to perform a Google look-up. At the same time, Orwell himself writes in the text, which is a rushed and scattershot affair indeed, more like a schoolboy’s composition than a completely articulated scholarly or otherwise expert conceptualization, “Look back through this essay, and for certain you will find that I have again and again committed the very faults I am protesting against.”

What in hell does that imply? The essay’s tone is about as far afield from irony as one side of the galaxy is distant from the other. In his helter-skelter need to state these things, and (What? ‘Have done with them?’ ‘Get back to them as time allows?’ What?) convey them to readers, he had caught himself writing vaguely, reflexively relying on passively voiced verbs.

“A speaker who uses that kind of phraseology has gone some distance toward turning himself into a machine. The appropriate noises are coming out of his larynx, but his brain is not involved as it would be if he were choosing his words for himself. If the speech he is making is one that he is accustomed to make over and over again, he may be almost unconscious of what he is saying, as one is when one utters the responses in church. And this reduced state of consciousness, if not indispensable, is at any rate favorable to political conformity.”

Is the erstwhile defendant of a certain sort of righteous anti-communism  accusing himself? Such is not out of the question for the man who wrote 1984 as commentary, at least in part, on the totalitarian tendencies of ‘democracies.’ Certainly, the question might cause one to consider paying attention.

Every utterance, every merest linguistic gesture—an arched-eye, a discrete cough, etc.—has a skein of political meaning inside it that connects it to all our very political species’ use of language over time. In this vein, Orwell writes, “All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia.”

Moreover, one’s always-political articulation, when it is in fact intentionally about power and dominance and, in Leonard Cohen’s immortal phrase, “who’s to serve and who’s to eat,” presents us with a troubling notion. Is honesty quite safe?

Might one want to ‘hedge one’s bets,’ ‘trim one’s sails,’ and in general try to ensure that one does not utter too many things that might offend those parties to matters of State who actually plan and administer the course of things? The directors of intelligence agencies; the executives in charge of tax bureaus; the chiefs of police forces; the monopoly-financed marketers of chemicals; the ‘well-connected’ providers of ordnance; the lead designers of everything in existence; the list is extensive of such brokers of the common experience of humanity whom one might elect not to insult or speak out against. Moreover, truly, those on the government side of this listing exchange places regularly with those in the commercial end of operations.

Orwell notes the effects of such caution against the multifaceted powers-that-be. “Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging, and sheer cloudy vagueness.”

As a matter of course, one might make too much of such a thing. The composer of a diatribe against, among other things, the passive voice, creates a minimum of sixty-one clauses with a passively-voiced verb or infinitive; this in a relatively brief essay in which 4,000 words are his own rather than excerpts or quotations. He then distinctly points this faux pas out to those who listen in.

“So what? Maybe it’s random.” Such voices as this also exist. They might make one giggle. Perhaps such a characterization is a ‘straw man,’ for which, if so, I apologize—just making sure that we agree in this case that Orwell’s is a pointed ‘admission against interest’ on his part.

At a minimum, in this impassioned note against a certain foible that is replete with that very error, we could stipulate that Orwell’s discovery and admission suggests something or other. Maybe we might wonder what this meaning might be. In any event, for a Grammar Nerd, such conundrums are irresistible.

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ARGUMENTATION ALMOST ORWELLIAN IN NATURE

For whatever the observation is worth, quite a bit of dyspeptic accusation and disputation happen over both Orwell’s imprecation against passive voice and the general issue of using passive verbal construction. These writers  occasionally really insult and assault each other. At other junctures, they scoff at Orwell.

Once more, what all of this signifies—in a wider, omniscient scheme of things—is almost certainly never going to be completely discernible. As well, though I would find such a choice discomfiting, one could argue that the upshot of all this is that, in our writing, either passive wording will remain ineluctable or such inscription is fine and dandy for the most part.

The first item in this little series made the case, as a default, for opting to write actively. Whether one agrees or disagrees, a rational statement of why such an election could be best-practice is possible, and all sorts of writing teachers also offer just such analysis. For our purposes, today though, we shall simply note some of the assertions in these irascible narratives and test their resonance, see if they seem accurate or probative.

No less an authority than The Columbia Journalism Review has a typically ‘balanced’ view. It cites no less an iconic manual that mandates stylistic selection than the Chicago Manual of Style. “’The choice between active and passive voice may depend on which point of view is desired. For instance, the mouse was caught by the cat describes the mouse’s experience, whereas the cat caught the mouse describes the cat’s.’”

One can only beg pardon, but another view is possible. “The mouse ended its days in the jaws of the cretinous little feline.” “The mouse suffered a terrible death, bleeding and in shock from its encounter with the cat.” “The mouse died because of the cat.” Or, “the mouse could not escape the cat.”

Are such choices better? Who knows? But they certainly convey the sense and intensity of what is happening, from the poor little fuzzy mouse’s POV too.

CJR itself states the matter like this: “Passive voice is better when the object of the action is more important than the subject performing the action, or when the subject performing the action is unknown. ‘Joseph Doke was shot as he walked to work’ is necessary if the person doing the shooting is unknown. You can write ‘Someone shot Joseph Doke on his way to work,’ but that puts the emphasis on the shooter instead of the shootee.”

Once again, we’ll beg forgiveness. Here’s another alternative to passive verbs for lamentable Joseph Doke. “Joseph Doke first froze, and then slowly fell, with an unknown shooter’s .45 bullet in his head.”

Perhaps the unfortunate Joseph died many hours previously. “Joseph Doke, face a peaceful mask, lay where some shooter had killed him from ambush.” Similarly, “Poor Joseph’s corpse, his face a grotesque grimace of pain, lay where someone shot him down.”

As always, one can select, “Joseph Doke was shot as he walked to work.” One has committed no sin against the Grammar Gods. Just as reasonably, however, one can choose otherwise, as would I.

One might ramble on interminably about all of this. The examples are, if not infinite, close enough to limitless to represent more than a lifetime’s labors to ponder comprehensively. Next month, Happy Union Grammar Nerd will exemplify, very specifically, the reactionary consequences of many common usages of passive voice.

Are such aggressively self-righteous and conservative, often irredentist, results intentional? Readers will have a chance to decide for themselves.

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EXAMPLES AND OUTTAKES

This work has already made clear how ubiquitous these types of expression are. Moreover, that one may in fact like them is beyond dispute. However, also demonstrable is the likelihood that on average readers will see as stronger, clearer, and generally better actively voiced sentences.

Orwell’s Passivity

In sixty-one sentences, at the very least, dear George exhibits what he decries. Was this the result of draconian difficulty? Did it emanate from inevitable reflexivity? If one examines these very identifiable complete thoughts, or phrases and ‘dead clauses,’ only to find that eliminating passive voice is quick and easy,, then the answers to the above queries would seem likely to be, well, “No!!

Here are six of those collections of words. That is a sample of roughly ten per cent of the total, more or less at random.

  •  ”(I)t is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it.” The first instance: “The general assumption is that doing anything about it is impossible.
  • ”Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble.” Also early on: “Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which writers can avoid if they are willing to take the necessary trouble.
  • ”As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed.” One of the first items after the ‘political turn:’ “As soon as writers and thinkers raise certain topics, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of anything except hackneyed turns of speech.
  • ”In addition, the passive voice is wherever possible used in preference to the active, and noun constructions are used instead of gerunds (by examination of instead of by examining).” A little later in the ‘political heartland:’ “In addition, the passive voice almost universally predominaates in preference to the active, and noun constructions replace gerunds (examination of instead of by examining).”
  • ”(Modern writing) consists in gumming together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else, and making the results presentable by sheer humbug.” In the explanatory section: “(Modern Writing) consists in gumming together long strips of words which some hidden interlocutor or force of nature has already set in order, and making the results presentable by sheer humbug.
  • ”Two recent examples were explore every avenue and leave no stone unturned, which were killed by the jeers of a few journalists.” From near the end: “Two recent examples were explore every avenue and leave no stone unturned, which the jeers of a few journalists effectively destroyed.”

This entire exercise, including composing the paragraph that houses this material, finding and cutting and pasting, and correction required plus-or-minus seventeen minutes.

One would hope that agreement here would be fairly straightforward. Explanation such as what the above interrogatories imply does not account for Orwell’s ‘passive tendencies,’ so to speak. Or perhaps one might convince a thinker otherwise. Eh? Inquiring minds do like to inquire.

Exceptions or Choices?

Situations that purport to ‘mandate’ or in general favor passive voice supposedly exist. Highly authoritative pontification on both why we must have or must avoid such writing is omnipresent in grammar and style circles.

The point of these ‘Grammar Nerd’ ramblings is not to mandate. However, the HUGN does prefer active writing. He has chosen to compose so as to identify things without use of passive forms.

Thus, those who contend that passively voiced text is, even occasionally, superior do irritate him. One further example facilitates our exit for the day.

Wikipedia’s entry on the subject includes a section, “Advice in Favor of the Passive Voice.” Three of the four examples there, as we shall see, are precisely like every single prose defense of such usage, at best a matter of choice.

However, the cases on display do include the ‘exception that proves the rule,’ as it were. In poetry, passive construction—at least in English, when rhyme and meter matter—is often no more avoidable than gas is to those who like beans.

From Wikipedia: “Passive writing is not necessarily slack and indirect. Many famously vigorous passages use the passive voice, as in these examples.”

The Grammar Nerd feels differently, with the ‘metered’ exception.

*Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain. (King James Bible, Isaiah 40:4)

God shall exalt every valley, level every mountain, straighten all that is crooked, and smooth the rough places.

*Now is the winter of our discontent / Made glorious summer by this sun of York. (Shakespeare’s Richard III, I.1, ll. 1–2)

The metered exception does exist.

*For of those to whom much is given, much is required. (John F. Kennedy’s quotation of Luke 12:48 in his address to the Massachusetts legislature, 9 January 1961.)

For those who receive so much must also give back in equal measure.

*Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few. (Winston Churchill addressing the House of Commons, 20 August 1940.)

Never, in all history’s conflicts, have so many owed so much to so few.

And that, as the saying goes, is that.

“United in Blood” Against Empire

Neruda, Jara, & Chilean Culture’s Social-Solidarity Impact

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crossposted from Contributoria.com

OVERTURE

As always, one might present the nub of today’s script simply.  One chronicler has stated the matter under consideration like this: “The division of labor among nations is that some of them specialize in winning and others in losing.  Our part of the world, known today as Latin America, was precocious: it has specialized in losing ever since those remote times when Renaissance Europeans ventured across the ocean and buried their teeth in the throat of Indian civilization.”

The winners are frequently easily recognizable, among them the likes of Henry Kissinger and Citibank; Richard Helms and the Central Intelligence Agency; the Guggenheim interests, the Rockefeller interests, and the panoply of well-heeled conquerors who dot the modern prospect.  The losers often seem less obviously noteworthy or famous—Salvador Allende, Victor Jara, and Rene Schneider simply don’t have the same name recognition as, say, Richard Nixon does.

Those whose lives the winners snuffed out, sometimes in a hail of bullets and other times through hunger and more protracted forms of attrition, had many different hopes and dreams.  Though one might easily have chosen differently, this essay focuses on some of those ‘losers’ who believed in social justice and social democracy, particularly in Chile during the 1960’s and 1970’s.

The ‘winners,’ on the other hand, possessed a much more uniform consciousness and set of goals.  They sought profit over all else; most importantly, they organized to crush the merest hints of any workable expression of sharing, of mutuality, of popular empowerment.  They organized themselves in trust-funded operations that served a single purpose: the promotion and persistence of monopoly empire.  Understanding these points about the commonly-held attitudes among history’s victors is at least half the problem of understanding why these travails have played out as they have.

As always with the Spindoctor’s profferrals, this article is lengthy.  One may alleviate the burden by noting that the analysis here occurs in many sections.  One a day, or one a week, might seem more manageable than any idea of gulping down the whole in one slurp.

With very few exceptions, the dramas and conflicts, the heroics and horror, that took place in and around Santiago Chile during the thirty years from 1960-1990 did not happen to the readers of this document.  Thus, in order to dig into the heart and soul of these struggles for human decency and the battles of the above ‘winners’ against them, one needs a willingness to identify with both sides of the ‘class war’ that unfolded in these environs plus-or-minus forty years ago.

Identification with those who prevailed is much easier, since they own or control, along with most everything else on our fair planet, the means of production of information and knowledge.  They hold the keys to the secrets that they still hide away.  Identification with those who lost, often dying for their actions and beliefs and songs, presents a thornier problem.  We have to try harder to see and feel what they underwent.

Such empathy, however, clearly does depend on imagination.  Verses like these necessitate a fierce delving of plausible meaning, for example, while we fight to maintain our composure and avoid nervous distraction that borders on fear.

“How hard it is to sing
when I must sing of horror.
Horror which I am living,
horror which I am dying.
To see myself among so much
and so many moments of infinity
in which silence and screams
are the end of my song.
What I see, I have never seen
What I have felt and what I feel
Will give birth to the moment.”

One might picture a large stadium in one’s mind’s eye, at the cusp of a Southern Hemisphere Spring, ten days from the Vernal Equinox.  The pitch has a huge table in the very center, its top splotched with mottled blood and pieces of flesh, patches of hair and tissue.  At all the exits and facing the stands are uniformed men, most carrying assault rifles, all their faces grim and sleep-deprived except when the occasional joke or comment elicits derision and cackles; a few gather in groups around .30 and .50 caliber machine guns.  They point these instruments of management and death casually at the stands.

These weapons have already killed a few score of the many thousands—some say only 5,000 or so, others that more than 10,000 were present, under arrest and awaiting their fate—who face their captors like cattle that are conscious of hamburger.  One of the men among the captives, in what would be a sparse crowd for either a soccer finale or a ‘friendly’ with visiting gringos, seeks to give comfort to those present.  Though fear constrains his voice, he sometimes leads songs.

At one point during the third day of this ‘spontaneous’ upwelling of fascism that took place in Santiago de Chile in the period after September 11, 1973, this man, whose name is Victor, approaches one of the commandantes with a request from an ailing comrade.  The officer, at first impassive, grins with sadistic glee when he recognizes the speaker, mimicking a simpering guitarist, eyes arched inquisitively.

Victor’s face blanches.  He must sense what is pending.  At a signal from their leader, soldiers seize him by the elbows and lead him to the central stage.

Seated at the grimy table spattered with slime and fluid, he finds himself surrounded.  Two men restrain him from rising.  A third man extends his right arm, a fourth his left, into the bloody mess on the sturdy wooden surface where he sits, trembling.  Another teniente smacks him in the head each time that he balls his fists.  Ultimately, he splays his fingers, and the pistol-whipping stops.

Already battered and bruised from ‘interrogation,’ he breathes unevenly.  He begins to weep.  Standing nearby, a man with a machete—or is it a hand-axe of some sort?—whistles a tuneless, psychotic dirge.

At times, the verities of real-politick are so hideous and noisome that even mentioning them—let alone studying them thoroughly—brings on attacks of nausea and vertigo.  One simply wants to flee, find a safe haven or asylum that doesn’t require noting and pondering the murder in the name of justice, depredation in the name of ‘development,’ and violent repression in the name of ‘freedom’ that have characterized imperial adventures in the modern sphere, with the United States—its vaunted ‘bastion-of-liberty’ notwithstanding—the leading villain.

On the other hand, an inability to deal with the real—to this day, “reality orientation” is a critical part of how ‘professionals’ evaluate one’s mental health—not only impedes effectiveness, but it might also result in more and more of exactly the types of events that we would rather deny existed.  Nowhere in the immediately-prior-to-contemporary ambit—not in Palestine, not in Ukraine, not in the South China Sea, not in South Asia, not in Africa, not in any other geographic location—have such lethal dynamics come into play with more ferocity than until recently they did in Latin America.  Not for nothing has Eduardo Galeano described the entire region as a body of “opened veins.”

Whatever social description of this vast Hispanic Diaspora has become apropos in the present moment, the U.S. has continued to persist in seeking to apply Monroe’s righteous doctrine.  This shows up in Venezuela, in Argentina, and of course in Cuba, as well as elsewhere.

This Yankee morass of ‘magical’ pleasure and nightmarish torment has endured for a century-and-a-half or more.  Over this entire period, arguably no event or series of occurrences has more clearly illustrated this locus of luxuriant horror than did the crushing of Salvador Allende’s idealistic Chilean experiment in electoral socialism.  In any case, that outpouring of homicidal conspiracy is the context for the topic of the day.

The particular focus in these pages is the culture of love and optimism in which President Allende’s miracle came to fruition, how that popular expression of music and artistic passion has continued despite the imperial slaying of its primary proponents—men such as Victor Jara.  Jara’s magnificent life and heroic death, then, are the center around which this narrative turns as it develops the thesis that this magnificence and heroism continue and are more crucial than ever to human survival.

Before we take an inevitably too brief—and also, for many readers, too lengthy—foray into this realm of art and power in faraway Chile, however, both in the remainder of this section and in the preface that follows, readers may view the violent heart of the brutal patterns that have characterized both this region’s relations with the United States and Latin American society’s internal dynamics generally for the centuries during which colonialism has evolved into the complexities of modern empire.

The overall idea about North America’s Latin American nexus is straightforward.  For the better part of two centuries—since at least the War with Mexico—top administrators of the United States, at a minimum the President and the military establishment, have been likely culpable for mass homicide and conspiracy in Spanish speaking countries of the hemisphere.  Such indictments may not be incontrovertible and might now and again fail to yield a conviction, but the accusations would be universally reasonable.

Especially in regard to Chile’s destruction on September 11th, 1973, the prosecutorial stance becomes even clearer and more pointed.  With virtually no doubt, Richard Nixon is a murderer, a conspirator and accessory before and after the fact.  With a similar degree of certitude, the Central Intelligence Agency’s Richard Helms is also a probable murderer.  So too, in the same elliptical way, is National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger just about certainly guilty of conspiracy and aiding and abetting homicide.

Given facts both direct and circumstantial, both the result of documentation and eyewitness accounts, even lacking the still vast troves of inculpatory evidence that the U.S. refuses to release, no rational jury would likely find these men blameless or fail to reach a unanimous verdict.  In the arena that this essay examines, therefore, with a degree of probability that approaches exactitude, Richard Nixon, Richard Helms, and Henry Kissinger are as responsible for the savage torture and killing of Victor Jara as if they had personally wielded the blade that chopped off his fingers, as if they had individually pulled the triggers that riddled his body with forty-four bullets.

The same would be also almost definitely true of a small army of ‘Yankee’ operatives, from various agencies of empire, who have all—like these ‘leaders of the free world’—escaped judgment.  Quite plausibly, in any case, each of the primary actors would also be complicit in crimes against humanity.

These pronouncements are quite specific.  They are also, except by those whose fatuous commitment to propaganda and falsehood permits supercilious debate, close enough to indisputable to do as Chile and other jurisdictions have done, seeking the extradition of Henry Kissinger to question him about his role in these sorts of horrific crimes.  Or, a scholar might examine Richard Helm’s conviction for lying to Congress about this countrywide torture and slaughter in the Andean nation. Anyhow, along with these more or less exact condemnations, we could also offer a more general statement in regard to Santiago and its environs.

To state this overview succinctly, we might employ a more or less definitive clause here: That the United States Proceeded in Chile as Elsewhere With MALICE Aforethought.  This combination of subject and verb and modifiers itself contains an acronym: MALICE—Murder, Antipathy, Lies, Individualism, Conspiracy, Emiseration—that perfectly and more or less completely summarizes the period from 1960 till now in Chile and the so-called ‘Southern Cone.  In fact, this is one of the many environments where John F. Kennedy disingenuously called for continuing a “good neighbor policy” that had arguably not existed when Franklin Roosevelt advanced it during the 1930’s and had close to zero correspondence to actuality during JFK’s Presidency or the administrations that followed.

An arguably crucial point in this regard is as follows.  As Victor Jara, hands dripping gore and painful beyond sore, croaked out a last song—he had stood, stumps of fingers that spurted blood, and the leader of the butchers had commanded “sing for us now, poet”—in a voice choked with pain and fear, as he stared down the barrels of the automatic weapons that would end his life, he understood these things about empire and power and knew their central place in any future resistance to such events’ transpiring again.

media 24Prefatory Matters—Monroe’s’ Doctrine’ to ‘War’s Racket’ Writ Large in Cuba

The all-too-standard view is that history is disposable, at best.  “I don’t care about history.  I don’t like history.  History sucks.”  No matter how toxic or tragic, such perspectives probably resonate with a majority of citizens.

When adults hold such views, this resembles a mature child who despises its parents.  In a fashion that an earlier investigation here on Contributoria employed, such an attitude is like a panicked traveler who is seeking directions to ‘Portland’ without knowing where he is.  Or, these beliefs mimic the difficulties of one who desperately wants to ‘find the way to Portland’ but doesn’t know where she came from to get wherever in hell she is.

Here we all are, in a world in which one empire-of-the-Americas has inordinate influence over the fates of every living human, and yet we really don’t come close to comprehending how this has all come about.  Maybe at least a brief foray into the developments that took us from past to present could serve our interests.

In this regard, vast armies of dedicated scholars might spend many lifetimes deconstructing the conquest of the Americas by Europe.  In doing so, the observer would want to account for the significant differences that distinguish Hispanic America from Anglo America.

Unfortunately, accomplishing such a task effectively and briefly is likely impossible, yet a few salient aspects of such interpretative work would at least suggest the parameters that an annalist might establish to examine these obvious differences.

  • A key element would likely be the relative importance of extractive versus agricultural and then industrial economies, which in turn affected everything in the spheres of production and trade.
  • The greater capacity for resistance, or at least persistence, of Chile’s Mapuche and the entire region’s indigenous population, is also likely important; one Spanish potentate whom Chilean Indian rebels captured early in the colonial fray, after they slaughtered all the soldiers who had accompanied him in his attempt to assert the continued enslavement of native laborers, may have died as a result of the Mapuche’s pouring molten gold, which he so craved, down his throat.
  • What one might call this ‘culture of conquistadors’ also probably played a role in establishing a landholding class that practically speaking predominated in much of Chile, and much of Latin America, until the past century or so; of course, the working classes that underlay such a system would differ at least slightly from the ‘regular people’ who formed the masses of folks further North in North America.
  • One might continue: geography, proximity to Europe and the ease of immigration, the different social developments that characterized England and Spain, and much more would tend to lay the basis for what ended up being quite distinct social and political communities in the Western Hemisphere.

In any event, these sorts of factors would indeed have established foundations for the way that actual relationships evolved as modern times approached and came to pass.

In this vein, from the point of view of the Spanish-speaking Americas, this initiation of the realm of the present, more or less, must emerge from the severing of colonial dominance from Madrid.  Over the course of twenty years or so after 1800, every piece of Spanish America broke away from direct European dominance, with a few exceptions like Cuba and British Guyana.

Even cursory glances at the writings of such ‘rebels’ as Simon Bolivar illustrate that this process was not obviously similar to what happened in British colonial North America.  In one letter or tract after another, El Liberator wrote of the lack of networks of power, of crushing debts that the means of production would not alleviate, of leaders so venal and greedy that they would likely turn on each other and defeat themselves given time and space to accomplish their natural inclinations.  The end result of all these difficulties was an Iberian and ‘Holy Alliance’ counterattack on the erstwhile independent States in the early 1820’s, focused especially on Peru.

“Everything (in Lima) is in disorder; there is no government, no army.  President La Mar has always been a godo(a selfish idiot), and most of the army heads have always been godos, and the naval commander at Callao as well.  The chief of staff, the commanding officers of engineers, and the commanding officer of artillery are also godos.  In these circumstances…(a) large(r) number of troops (than the 3,000 that Bolivar dispatched) is not being sent for the present because it is impossible.  I have no ships, no provisions, and no troops here.  We have already spent a hundred thousand pesos, and we are just beginning the enterprise.  In order to send the next 3,000, God knows what we shall have to do, for we are burdened with debts, and we do not have the slightest credit.”

Bolivar’s vision was of a United States of South America, and his will that it should come to be was powerful.  “(I)t shall be done, cost what it may.”  Yet the leaders under his command conspired against each other as readily as—or even more readily than—they united to fight Spanish attempts to reassert its rule.  They negotiated separate arrangements with England, the United States, and other rising industrial economies.

Chile’s place in these ventures—plus-or-minus 1823—was complex and not at all uniform.  On the one hand, years earlier, Bolivar had considered Chile particularly apt to adopt ‘republicanism,’ especially under the aegis of Bernardo O’Higgins.  For many years, Santiago had diligently supported federation and seemed a reliable bastion against Spain’s attempts to overthrow the young republics and to defeat their union.

One of Bolivar’s chief subordinates, J. Gabriel Perez, corresponded with Chile’s plenipotentiary to Peru in May, 1823.  He laid out the strategic and geopolitical context that was developing, in which the “United States of North America” might join with Spain and Portugal themselves in recognition of the new rulers.

The complications in this situation centered on demands from Continental European powers—Prussia, Russia, and Austria, the so-called Holy Alliance—that Spain reinstate the Bourbon King and return his colonial imprimatur at the same stroke.  “England has authorized her minister in Madrid to conclude an offensive and defensive alliance with Spain… .to induce (it) to recognize the sovereignty of the South American states…(a necessity) if we are to interest ourselves in this tremendous struggle or if she is to provide herself with an immense new market for her industry and manufactures.”

England’s work behind the scenes with anti-Bourbon Spaniards and anti-royalist Portuguese would serve to advance the English imperial domination that had been a primary result of Napoleon’s defeat eight years before.  Yet the Spanish in the colonies often enough remained completely committed to another Bourbon ascendancy and to the renewal of colonial plunder that was mercantilist and thereby excluded England.

Bolivar obviously hoped that Chile would provision and maintain a troop contingent in Peru of 2,000 men or more “not only (to) counterbalance Spanish power united there, but…also (to) give Peru greater strength than her enemies and provide more reasons to be recognized and more justification for English intervention on her behalf.”  The basis for presuming Chile’s agreement to such requests concerned the Andean nation’s desire for more territory—soon enough to come to fruition—and its ongoing courting of both English and United States commercial links in its seafaring enterprises.

Just two years subsequently, despite Bolivar’s insistence that only a union of the newly independent states could salvage their ongoing viability, Bolivar added a postscript in a lengthy missive to Francisco Santander, the Vice President of Colombia.  “Chile is in a state of frightful anarchy.  Freire has gone to Concepcion, and Pinto to Coquimbo.  The province of Santiago is governed by its intendant.  Reports have it that the Chilean Congress will send a deputation to recall O’Higgins,” which would favor the faction that backed a confederation and Bolivar against those whose interests were narrower and more in tune with strengthening North American and British connections.

Though inherently truncated and superficial, these depictions ought at a minimum to create a template for viewing how Latin America developed.  Its attempts at union having come to nothing—with United States approval for the multiplicities of jurisdiction clear-cut—its dependence on U.S. and, especially, English capital and markets having increased, these divided nation-states unavoidably fell into the orbit of one imperial ambition or another.

This became especially problematic when, unlike Chile, the just-formed political entities themselves eschewed republican commitment-to-commerce-over-blood and sought to impose monarchies of one sort or another.  In Brazil, such moves might prove tolerable to those in Washington whose growing strength ‘manifested an imperial destiny’ that would seemingly encompass the hemisphere and might eventually bridle the entire globe.

But when this longing for royalty took place across a border that gringos increasingly crossed with an intention to own whatever they might purchase ‘free-and-clear,’ in other words in Mexico, then such developments might appear almost insufferable.  Moreover, Mexican sociopolitical choices invited European involvement in their monarchical fancies, which U.S. officials unequivocally rejected.

Thus, on the American side, the debates about how to respond to this spate of rebellions and the promulgation of James Monroe’s famous ‘Doctrine’ would mark the coming of a more or less contemporary attitudinal and political nexus toward our ‘neighbors’ to the South.  In Washington, no matter the fierce debates between John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay, regardless of quibbling over how to couch trade with territorial expansion, almost universal agreement existed both that significant, or even critical, “American interests” were at stake in how the hemisphere developed to the South of the U.S. borders at the time and that the capacity to extend force, as in the development and extension of especially naval operations and commerce, would constitute a necessary component of this overarching ‘interest.’

The secession of Texas from Latin America, its annexation by the United States, and war with Mexico manifested destiny in ways that continue to resonate in almost every arena of contemporary American life.  That Mexico’s caste and class divisions were vastly more critical in causing the inevitable war with the United States to be an unmitigated disaster than were the military prowess or tactical proficiency of U.S. armed forces is important to note, of course.  So too is the point of crucial import that the to-the-death fight over slavery that rent the U.S. in many ways began with the entry of Texas as slave territory into the union; in any case, most of New England and substantial parts of the Eastern U.S. stoutly opposed the war against Mexico.

The end result of the conflict, nevertheless, was the establishment of an ‘Uncle Sam’s’ strategic force that was capable of becoming behemoth, whose territorial extent, growing industrial prowess, and combination of capitalism and social free-for-all for men of European ancestry inaugurated the rise of Pax Brittanica in the Western Hemisphere even as it ultimately threatened to replace England’s rule with its own vigorous combination of bigoted self-confidence and practical productive savvy.  In this way, the Monroe Doctrine formed a wedge for British industrial products and capital, on the one hand, and for the ready extraction of necessary resources, on the other hand.  Even the ‘scandal’ of England’s offer to purchase Texas could not derail the ‘special relationship’ between U.S. expansionism and English commercial and naval supremacy.

The wild yarn of William Walker complements the tale of Texas, where U.S. agents and opportunistic interlopers combined to bring an on-paper-only Mexican rule crashing down.  Walker in 1854 exemplified filibustering that newcomers North of the Rio Grande had field-tested in the early 1830’s, an important outlet for those in the United States who hoped to institutionalize slavery as a key part of Western Hemispheric capitalism.

Walker first led comrades in an invasion of Baja California.  When anticipated popularity did not materialize—in other words, no additional mercenaries showed up to fight off the paltry Mexican forces that opposed him—he ‘surrendered’ to U.S. authorities just across the relatively new U.S. California border.

He made his mark as an adventurer in Central America.  He and a few dozen armed and trained soldiers-of-fortune allied with local gunslingers to depose and then dispatch the President of Nicaragua in a firing squad.  He abrogated the prohibition on slavery and instituted a ‘constitution’ that mimicked the likes of Tennessee and South Carolina.

Viewing Walker’s filibustering as either an aberration or as individualist heroism represents the preferred surface explanation for these events.  What actually transpired is much more modern, spookily so.

The issues at hand combined logistics—transportation between Eastern and Western North America primarily—and marketing—determining which products would find a way to consumers and final purchases.  Specifically, the owners of the primary delivery operation across Nicaragua deployed Walker to shift the Central American State’s licensing permissions for transiting the Isthmus when Cornelius Vanderbilt’s stock manipulations in New York were eliminating Walker’s employers’ ownership of the company.

Vanderbilt reacted with typical efficiency to this challenge.  He oversaw the organization of British and different Central American and dissident Nicaraguan counterattacks against Walker’s ‘Presidency.’  They permitted the dapper Tennessean to exit and warned him not to return.  When instead he organized another filibuster and came back, they captured him and shot him to pieces in Honduras.

A half-century later, after a sectional bloodletting imposed a tepid emancipation of African-Americans and revolutionized the productive forces of the U.S. at one and the same time, a continental capitalist gargantuan erupted that had only been nascent during Walker’s day, late in the 1800’s tied together by rails and telegraph lines.  In fulfilling this ‘sea-to-shining-sea’ destination, any further expansion, inevitably, had to occur outside Yankee borders.

More and more, like England after Waterloo, the United States needed an “Open Door” for its industrial and agricultural products and ‘freedom of access’ to natural resources in foreign jurisdictions.  Miraculously, in less than a century, the tiny thirteen original states had spanned North America, and the Stars & Stripes prepared to take on the task of governing the world.

Frederick Jackson Turner’s note about the ‘frontier’s’ role in all this process, equal parts fantasy and description, resonates still.  He spoke of the way that Americans saw themselves, to an extent, and totally of how ‘Uncle Sam’s’ rulers wanted to present themselves.

“Another wave rolls on.  The men of capital and enterprise come.  The settler is ready to sell out and take advantage of the rise in property, push farther into the interior and become, himself, a man of capital and enterprise in turn.  The small village rises to a spacious town or city; substantial edifices of brick, extensive fields, orchards, gardens, colleges, and churches are seen.  Broad-cloths, silks, leghorns, crapes, and all the refinements, luxuries, elegancies, frivolities, and fashions are in vogue.  Restaurants, luxuries, elegancies, frivolities, and fashions are in vogue.  Thus wave after wave is rolling westward; the real Eldorado is still farther on.”

However, the inevitable offshoot of such a dynamic was the ‘restless’ search for, even necessary acquisition of, markets and resources outside the ‘small-village’ ambit.  After all, this sort of development ended with the ‘closing of the frontier.’  In this context, voila!  All manner of divided and ‘underdeveloped’ polities lay close at hand, ready for propositioning or even more aggressive incursions.

Thus, war with Spain became an inevitable crusade, righteously defended in the name of liberty but operationalized in terms of industrial plantation agriculture and the decimation of grassroots, legitimate liberation movements in Cuba and the Philippines.

And the seeds that promised revolutionary growth in Cuba thereby percolated in fertile soil.   None other than Che Guevara spoke of how this ‘duty’ in relation to Havana and its surrounds had played out as a historical pattern.

“(W)e all know the nature of that duty.  (T)hat same duty took to account a sovereign nation, which is Mexico, for its expression of indignation at the violent and bestial economic aggression unleashed against Cuba.  This duty of the United States is the same duty that compelled it to assassinate the patriot Sandino and put into power in Nicaragua the justly hated Somoza.  The duty of the United States was to give arms and planes, first to Batista and then to those who continue his work. …Thus do the rulers of the most powerful nation in this hemisphere understand their duties.  These are our ‘good neighbors,’ those who would defend us, who place a military base on our soil and pay us two thousand pesos a year for it; the sower of atomic bases on all the world’s continents, the barons of oil, tin, copper, and sugar—the heirs of monopoly.”

25 iraq projThrough all of this maturation of empire, from the first presence of U.S. Navy forces off Chile in the 1820’s, as part of the regime of various trade necessities—in California and Asia both—to the massive investments far to the North of Santiago that took place as World War was guaranteeing at least temporary demand for Chilean Nitrate and copper, Washington’s relations with the slender Republic that stretched from Peru to Antarctica were relatively benign.  Nothing disturbed a surface bustle that dealt with commerce and resources and a tendency to ‘leave well enough alone.’  At the same time, knowledge of such developments is less than sparse.

“Few however have pursued contemporaneous U.S. capital flow into overseas frontiers such as those in Chile, Venezuela, and elsewhere.  ‘The Americans who invested in Chile were interested in any good proposition,’ notes Wilkins, ‘whether it lay in the arid lands bordering the Andes, in the Russian Caucasus, in Northern Mexico, or in the hills of Montana.’  By 1914, the Guggenheim mining group had spent $169 million in getting the Chilean mines off to a roaring start. …By 1929, U.S. investments in Chilean copper and Venezuelan petroleum had surpassed American efforts in both of those industries in Mexico.

That such an agenda in fact typified the U.S. imprint in the region generally is obvious on the surface.  Its placidity and businesslike amicability were only skin deep, however.  “Banana Republics” is not merely a catchy phrase.  Dozens of military invasions took place in the half century from the end of the U.S. war with Spain and the rise of Chile’s “New Song” and Salvador Allende’s dream of elected socialist power.

soldier 23Eduardo Galeano speaks eloquently to such contentions: “After invading Panama, (George Herbert Walker Bush in 1991)…declared, ‘The world is a dangerous place.’  This pearl of wisdom has remained over the years as the most irrefutable justification for the highest war budget on the planet, mysteriously called the ‘defense budget.’  The name constitutes an enigma.  The United States hasn’t been invaded by anybody since the English burned Washington in 1812.  Except for Pancho Villa’s fleeting excursion during the Mexican Revolution, no enemy has crossed its borders.  The United States, in contrast, has always had the unpleasant habit of invading others.”

Thus, a ‘Good Neighbor’ façade held little in the way of promise for social progress or popular power.  In 1919, while he was advocating a League of Nations to assume the ‘duties’ that nations risked war in assuming, Woodrow Wilson stated the foundations of such ‘friendly’ viciousness succinctly.  “Is there any man, is there any woman, let me say any child here that does not know that the seed of war in the modern world is industrial and commercial rivalry?”

One of the most fascinating witnesses to this ongoing processing of commercial hegemony regardless, and military imposition as necessary, twice won the Congressional Medal of Honor.  He served for the better part of a decade as Commanding General of the United States Marine Corps.  Then he resigned to write War Is a Racket and seek a different way of approaching the production and control of life’s goods and services.

In fact, Smedley Butler acted very much like a socialist, or even a communist.  His fiery populist statements, mostly applicable to Latin America, drew on thirty-odd years of military service.  “I spent thirty-three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country’s most agile military force, the Marine Corps.  I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General.  And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street, and for the Bankers.  In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.  I suspected I was just part of a racket at the time.  Now I am sure of it. … I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914.  I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in.  I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street.  The record of racketeering is long.  I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912.  I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916.”

In keeping with Butler’s observations, Roosevelt’s and the American elites’ conception of Latin America was as a repository of resources for the conduct of Yankee assumption of the imperial crown that Britain had worn for so long.  This was the nature of the U.S.-Chilean conjunction seventy-five years ago, as World War Two launched an ‘American Century,’ much more modest than Germany’s hoped-for ‘thousand year reich.’

In this manifestation of economic servitude, and all the social stew that accompanied such patterns, that exemplified Chile’s development as of the last half century or so, truly astounding cultural and literary expressions were mushrooming West of the Andes.  Not that this was utterly atypical of Latin creativity, on the contrary, the region has burgeoned with film and poetry and music and drama and more for a long century or more.  But these gardens of story in Chile were especially fertile in producing their blossoms.

One such set of materials form the subject matter of Sebastian Allende’s work, La Influencia Anarquista en la Literatura Chilena(“The Anarchist Influence in Chilean Literature).  A central argument in his efforts revolves around the idea that anarchism and socialism, and even communism, have often conflated in Chilean culture.  The ultimate goals of human liberation and worker solidarity transcend ideological niceties.

Another publication, more standard and encyclopedic in its orientation, but redolent of the extent and power of Chilean stories, is a sixty year old volume from Francisco Dussuel.  Historia de la Literatura Chilena covers four centuries of tales that have emanated from Santiago and environs, though it does not emphasize indigenous mythology or all sectors of society equally.

A vastly larger compendium of explorations of Chile’s output might appear here.  But that would divert us from reaching our goal of exploring the work of Victor Jara and the New Song Movement, both of which were en route to social transformation when the CIA and Augusto Pinochet and company cut off Jara’s hands and shot him dead, in many ways effectively decapitating the movement.

We are going to arrive at Jara’s critically important contribution to human life via an examination of his friend and comrade in struggle to achieve a better Chile, the Nobel Laureate and poet, Pablo Neruda.  Amazingly though, Neruda’s was not the first instance of the Swedish committee’s notice of Chile.

Gabriela Mistral was an austere school teacher from a humble family in the dry foothills of Northern Chile’s mining regions, who also, miraculously given her far-from-upper-class roots, served as an occasional diplomat—a not infrequent practice that showed the reverence for culture that at times typified Chile and Spanish-speaking states more generally.   “She pushed her way out of poverty and obscurity through publishing poetry and a range of teaching materials for use in schools.”

She wrote simple and ethereally beautiful verse.  Often not overtly political, she nonetheless advocated for listening to Bolivar’s advice and decried the depredations of empire and fascism in her region and the Spanish Civil War.  Before he died, Garcia Lorca wrote a dedication to her that alluded to her love of land and Leo Tolstoy’s brand of peasant social anarchism: “When you lie still – ay, Gabriela, Gabriela – the Andes will cradle you – as if in a mint – and will make you a clay sarcophagus – that you may always have land.”

She corresponded with wealthy literati elsewhere in the Southern Cone, who sought her out and considered the issues of the day in tandem with her, especially as she acted as one of Chile’s diplomatic corps.  She fulminated on the rights of women and children and found herself caught in the grip of uprisings of anarchists and communists and the reactionary counterattacks of the rulers of the established order.

Both her fundamentally progressive mindset and her achieving the highest award in literature—the only woman from Hispanic America and the first Latin American to do so—directs the onlooker to consider the man whose poetry remains more memorable, but not necessarily any more important, in understanding Chile and its cultural gifts to all the world.  Certainly, Pablo Neruda would have responded with both joy and grief to her ferocious insistence that justice required radical transformation.

“The whole world has gone astray.  Selfishness, lust for power, and ignorance being the reasons why.  The greater number of us are a burden on the few, the ones who rule with a startling brazenness and inhumanity.  Fear, weapons, violence and concentration camps are turning man into a veritable puppet, stripping him ruthlessly of his greatest possession: his freedom to think and act and his creative mind.”

Reckon - flickr

Reckon – flickr

By Way of Introduction—Pablo Neruda’s Revolutionary Spirit

In this context of Chilean magnificence, the poetry and politics and lusty loving nature of Pablo Neruda form a seamless whole.  Moreover, his origins, as much so as any Nobel Prize winner ever, illustrate the way that humble roots can percolate a body of work that, so to speak, caffeinates truly radical words, insurrectionary verses that touch on every realm of life.

The hope here is not even to approximate an exhaustive portrait of this poet, both earthy and heartfelt, whose massive output and tremendous love for humanity continue to astonish anyone who notices.  On the contrary, a relatively few brushstrokes should serve this narrative’s needs.

The primary purpose of Neruda’s inclusion in this essay is to draw parallels between the lives, literary output, and moral sensibilities of two great creators—one a Nobel Prize winning poet, the other a revered folk singer and dramatist.  Chile’s working class, its lusty earthiness, its grand isolation amid astounding natural beauty, the Spanish language, and the dire struggles of wage-earners for dignity and justice joined Neruda and Jara, as if nature had conjoined them at the hip.

Like Gabriela Mistral, Neruda’s poetic name resembles his given name not in the least.  His father worked Chile’s rails in the time before trucking, when the only way to traverse almost three-thousand miles was via trains that the British had financed and built.  His mother died of tuberculosis before he had reached his second birthday.

He adored his stepmother, ‘Mamadre,’ who adopted the half-sister whom his father conceived with a lover while she was still nursing their son, the future ‘Pablo’s’ half brother.  He loved words from the age of ten at least, though his father discouraged him from fantasizing about seeking to support himself with his wrist.

Nevertheless, he began to publish little bits and pieces on the sly, from the age of thirteen on.  Perhaps miraculously, in the guise of fate if nothing else, the principal of the girl’s school adjacent to his academy was none other than Ms. Mistral, on the way to a Nobelist’s renown of her own.

She encouraged the fifteen year old, whom she directed to read Russian writers whenever he could.  From this guidance came his discovery of the Czech poet, Jan Neruda, whose patronymic he adopted, along with the common ‘Pablo,’ a change of his name that he hoped would keep from altogether alienating his father.

In the event, his talent transferred a soulful passion for life to the page in raging, fiery, delicious, lusty verses that caused his receiving almost instant recognition as a scribe.  Following his graduation from University, and the publication of Twenty Love Poems & a Song of Despair, Chile sent him abroad, indulging its more-than-occasional practice of awarding writers with diplomatic assignments—his first posting was to Burma.

In Argentina for a time in the 1930’s, he opened his eyes to the sociopolitical realm, even as he was composing the most abstract verses of his life.  He befriended Garcia Lorca and ended up with an attaché’s position in Spain shortly thereafter.

He powerfully propounded the Republican movement.  So much so did he support this anti-monarchical cause that Chile recalled him from his post.  However, he returned to Europe in 1938 where, from Paris, he helped to find Spanish refugees places to live in the Western Hemisphere.

His popularity was skyrocketing at this point, as was his income, yet he had already begun to circle the Communist cause that was to define the remainder of his life.  He served Chile in Mexico in the early 1940’s, returning to Santiago to run for the Senate in 1944 and win, as a Communista.

His criticism of a dour and reactionary President—albeit a man whom he had supported in the election, and whose party won in an alliance with the Communists—contributed to Gonzales Videla’s outlawing the Communist Party and issuing a warrant for Neruda’s arrest.  He lived underground for nearly two years, before his comrades and supporters helped him to escape the Andes for half a decade.

He spoke publicly and fully for the first time, in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, of this experience.  He rode through the Andes for as much as a week, crossing icy rivers late in the Southern Winter.  Four rural roustabouts guided him through trackless forests surrounded by glaciers and massive peaks.  These horsemen hacked trees to mark their return path.

When they passed makeshift bowers that marked some fallen sojourner, they would each cut new branches to add to the bedding for the dead.  Crossing a mirrored, snow-fed waterway, his horse nearly shed him as it swam in water over its head.  One of his companeros had followed with a lasso in case the poet fell, in waters that had years before swept the young guardian’s father to his death.

Fleeing prison, perhaps demise, he and his comrades came upon a flower-strewn meadow that bloomed with Spring’s approach.  There, they encountered a natural chapel that housed an open, ox-skull altar where each of the travelers placed dried fruit or bits of money, gifts that bypassers might find in the dead beast’s staring eye-sockets.  They each danced to honor the deity that lived in the bones, hopping a circle around the gleaming bleached horns, with only the sky and the rocks and the wind and the trees and the snows to winess.

Shortly after, they saw a rocky redoubt where entire trees burned more or less constantly to warm and provide process heat for Argentine workers who made cheese at sixteen thousand feet and sang and shared their lives and their food and their wine with Chileans who welcomed the opportunity to douse themselves in volcanically heated baths and treasured the chance to sleep inside, safe from police or soldiers or freezing to death.  When Neruda sought to give money to these creators of processed food, his generous hosts, they refused.

He continued his ruminations about what this experience of life had taught about simplicity and solidarity and plenty more besides.  “(I)f the poet succeeds in achieving this simple consciousness, this too will be transformed into an element in an immense activity, in a simple or complicated structure which constitutes the building of a community, the changing of the conditions which surround mankind, the handing over of mankind’s products: bread, truth, wine, dreams.  If the poet joins this never-completed struggle to extend to the hands of each and all his part of his undertaking, his effort and his tenderness to the daily work of all people, then the poet must take part, the poet will take part, in the sweat, in the bread, in the wine, in the whole dream of humanity.  Only in this indispensable way of being ordinary people shall we give back to poetry the mighty breadth which has been pared away from it little by little in every epoch, just as we ourselves have been whittled down in every epoch.”

Throughout his life, Pablo Neruda—who legally changed his name in 1946—openly celebrated the erotic and carnal fires that he and his adored companions lit with each other, in each other, through each other.  Darker visions blended with these volcanic expressions of life’s core, forming a fabric of desire and loss, joy and pain, that appeared in much of his work, expressive attributes that he shared with all kinds of other Chilean and Hispanic wordsmiths.

Returning to Chile in 1952, he had become even more staunchly Marxist and committed to the Communist cause, at the same time that he engaged in stern critique of Stalin after Nikita Khrushchev’s 1956 condemnation of the dictator.  All over the world, people translated and bought his poetry.  He continued to carry around his copy of Whitman’s Song of Myself, one of his muses.

He ran as a Communist candidate for President against Salvador Allende and Jorge Alessandri, the CIA darling in 1970, siding with Allende in the runoff.  A passage from his Nobel speech thirteen years later illuminated such a choice.  “By extending to these extreme consequences the poet’s duty, in truth or in error, I determined that my posture within the community and before life should be that of in a humble way taking sides.  I decided this when I saw so many honourable misfortunes, lone victories, splendid defeats.  In the midst of the arena of America’s struggles I saw that my human task was none other than to join the extensive forces of the organized masses of the people, to join with life and soul with suffering and hope, because it is only from this great popular stream that the necessary changes can arise for the authors and for the nations.  And even if my attitude gave and still gives rise to bitter or friendly objections, the truth is that I can find no other way for an author in our far-flung and cruel countries, if we want the darkness to blossom, if we are concerned that the millions of people who have learnt neither to read us nor to read at all, who still cannot write or write to us, are to feel at home in the area of dignity without which it is impossible for them to be complete human beings.”

Not surprisingly, perhaps, Neruda’s glorious oeuvre graces very few literature courses below the graduate level in the United States.  Such a distancing is consciously political on the part of Yankee institutional ‘objectivity.’

“’No writer of world renown is perhaps so little known to North Americans as Chilean poet Pablo Neruda,’ observed New York Times Book Review critic Selden Rodman.  Numerous critics have praised Neruda as the greatest poet writing in the Spanish language during his lifetime, although many readers in the United States have found it difficult to disassociate Neruda’s poetry from his fervent commitment to communism.”

Agelessly, Neruda’s monumental presentation to the audience in Stockholm serves as a gentle remonstrance to North American ignorance and arrogance.  “We have inherited this damaged life of people’s dragging behind them the burden of the condemnation of centuries, the most paradisiacal of peoples, the purest, those who with stones and metals made marvellous towers, jewels of dazzling brilliance – peoples who were suddenly despoiled and silenced in the fearful epochs of colonialism which still linger on.”

A secondary rationale for including Don Pablo here is that he too died shortly after Pinochet’s minions ripped Chile’s social fabric to shreds and slaughtered and disappeared thousands of civilians who supported Allende.  Since one focus of the Pinochetista bloodlust was on communist artists, many people contend that the fascists killed Neruda in some fashion similarly as they dispatched Victor Jara and so many others.

However this is not likely true.  At sixty-nine, Neruda was in a Santiago hospital and fighting cancer.

Inevitably, he encountered mediated presentations of the dance of death that Pinochet and the CIA were delivering to his native land, where his political opponent-turned-comrade, the socialist Allende, had been President when he entered his sickbed.

His wife of many years, the love of his life, recalls some of what her beloved underwent in the twelve days that followed September 11th.  She had returned to his side when he had summoned at one point.  “I dashed up to his room and sat down beside him.  I was exhausted with nervous tension.  Pablo is very agitated.  He said that he has spoken with many friends and that it is incredible that I don’t know what is going on in the country.  ‘They’re killing people,’ he tells me.  ‘They’re handing over bodies in pieces.  The morgue’s full of the dead, the people are outside in their hundreds, claiming the bodies.  Didn’t you hear what happened to Victor…Jara?  He was one of those they tore to pieces, they destroyed his hands.’  As I had tried to avoid his finding out about all the hair-raising news those days, he thought I was ignorant of everything.  ‘The body of Victor Jara in pieces.  Didn’t you know that?  Oh my God, that’s like killing a nightingale.  And they say that he kept on singing and singing, and that drove them wild.’”

Most probably, Pablo Neruda in the end died a few day later of a broken heart.  The clinical record of ‘heart attack’ as cause of death would in that case be accurate.

Pinochet personally forbade any public display for his funeral.  For days, despite this ban, thousands of people gathered to honor Pablo Neruda and bring flowers and song to his grave.

Core Matters—Poignant Paradox & Pointed Protests

Chile’s outsize cultural impact has already had a turn on this essay’s stage.  The work of Mistral and Neruda and others worked as antidote to heartbreak, even in the most woeful evolution of the world’s twists and turns.  This literary and artistic heft represents a multidimensional fabric that serves to support both Chilean society most specifically, Latin society with almost the same degree of clarity and completeness, and the wider world more broadly speaking.

A few additional notes can assist in launching this narrative’s central sections.  In each case, elements of the life and labor of Victor Jara are also part of the web that this briefing describes.

Frank sexuality and sensuality, as already alluded to, form a part of Chilean consciousness and enculturation.  That this happens in an arena where strict Catholicism holds sway is less paradoxical than one might imagine.

Isabel Allende, the assassinated President’s relative, not only composed entire novels through which a strongly feminine earthiness and lustiness expressed itself, but she also spun out briefer yarns that were even more graphic.  “Toad’s Mouth” is one of these.

It tells the tale of a vast sheep preserve in Chile’s South, practically inaccessible and owned by a pair of married British investors.  With few exceptions, all of the locals are men, strong but lonely, whose sole sexual outlets are either autonomous or bestial: both sheep and skinned seals serve on occasion.

Into this realm comes a powerful dervish of a woman.  She serves as confessor and consort to all of these men.  The particular customer of any give moment depends on who wins the games that she invents, one of which involves tossing a coin at her vaginal opening as she sits in a circle with legs spread wide.

She gyrates her hips in such a way that only rarely does a man gain a blessed hour or two with her as a result of this contest.  Along comes a slender, diminutive Argentine, taciturn and fierce of mien.

He has arrived in search of her.  He has an intuition that she is his mate.  In the game, he pitches his coin with such accuracy that she accepts him as her partner for a couple of hours or so.

They do not emerge from their embraces till the long afternoon and evening and night have yielded to a new dawn.  She packs her things and the newly inaugurated couple ventures forth toward a joined fate.

Strongly feminist and strongly anti-machismo are the lines of Allende’s stories.  This quality matches Mistral’s work, as already noted.  Many other feminist and lusty women also share these attributes with the author of House of the Spirits.

One other especially notable is Maria Bombal, whose metered paragraphs burst with longing.  She gives voice to a woman’s fierce desire, which, if unmet evokes complete chaos.  Such emotional and spiritual passion characterize her two brief novels and also intertwine with every line of her astounding short story, “The Tree.”

She ends this abbreviated mythic paean to music and carnal love almost with a manifesto.  “They had stolen her intimacy, her secret; she found herself naked in the middle of the street, naked before an old husband who turned his back on her in bed, who had given her no children. …Lies!  Her resignation and serenity were lies; she wanted love, yes love, and trips and madness, and love, love.”

A powerful contextualization of intuition and the average person’s capacity to see and to seek is also readily apparent in both Chilean music and literature.  While as ever one might find dozens or even hundreds of cases to exemplify this, two writers offer exemplary insights about this aspect of the Chilean Canon.

Robert Ampuero’s detective novels, literary gems, display this all-consuming yearning for knowledge.  Only his most recent installment in a multi-volume series is available in English, as The Neruda Case.  Undoubtedly, some kind of epistemological motivation is inherent in the detective genre, yet the contours of this longing is especially provocative in this series.

“If Cayetano’s case is driven by the poet’s quest for closure, the novel also reexamines the disjunctions between political philosophies and personal politics during that long tour from country to country.  The closing chapter, returning readers to 21st-century Chile, provides an ironic and potentially redemptive coda to the book’s vivid depictions of troubled histories.  Closely related to all this, Cayetano’s musings on detective fiction quickly show how the investigative techniques of first-world novels don’t apply to the uncertainties of the Latin American landscape.  Unlike in the rational and logical world of Maigret, ‘in Latin America — where improvisation, randomness, corruption, and venality were the order of the day — everything was possible.’”

Much better known, already dead though he just barely attained his first half century, Roberto Bolano also manifested—in the chatter and chants of an astounding variety of voices—the common folk’s perspectives on life.  Such a capacity is ubiquitous in The Savage Detectives2666, and Chile by Night.

In a different formulation of what Chile has to teach us, Roberto Bolano—or for that matter Isabel Allende, whose work the youthful Roberto attacked with brutal vitriol —might easily take center stage.  For now, a few further lines will do that this additional masterful yarnspinner from the Andes served up as forthrightly as he might announce his name.

“What twisted people we are.  How simple we seem, or at least pretend to be in front of others, and how twisted we are deep down.  How paltry we are and how spectacularly we contort ourselves before our own eyes, and the eyes of others…And all for what?  To hide what?  To make people believe what?”

This leaves altogether out of the mix the author’s poetry, which he considered his literary life force even as he turned to fiction in order to make money for the family that he knew that he would soon leave behind as a result of liver disease.  In any case, this vocalization of the incongruous and wild aspects of everyday life capture a core piece of literature’s magic, in all of which his roots in Chile —he returned from Mexico just in time for 9/11/73, escaping by happenstance—play a powerful role.

A consistent recognition that class and power-relations underlie the nature of story itself becomes rapidly apparent in Ampuero’s and Bolano’s writing, as it also does in Mistral’s, Neruda’s, and other Chileans.  Before we move on to the way that these components of the Chilean contextualize the life and work of Victor Jara, we ought to mention the body of work of Jose Donoso.

“Donoso, whose first published stories were in English, could have become a Latin American Joseph Conrad had he adopted English as his literary language.  Instead, he returned home and began to craft his intricate, minute, and brilliant fictions about the Chilean Bourgeoisie.”

“The Walk,” an eerie and discomfiting short story that he wrote in the middle of Allende’s brief stay in power, combines themes of psychological and psychosocial oppression that pervade upper-crust life with characterization that grapples with these difficulties like a stubborn wolverine.  The spinster sister takes to ambling about with her dog after the beast urinates on the parlor floor.  Her perambulations end up with her being out at all hours of the night, returning disheveled and gay instead of like her brothers, who are almost mad with worry and fear of a breach of decorum.

Then, like thousands of Chileans soon enough, she disappears.  Her nephew ponders all of this with amazement, a combination of fear and longing that aptly describe what many Chileans were seeking, despite the risks, during Allende’s abortive reign.

Whatever the merits of Bolano’s savaging of Isabel Allende, her work, more so than any other writer’s—with the exception of Neruda and Jara—embraces the political aspects of human life.  This is no accident.  “The bloody military coup that resulted in the death of her uncle, the first democratically elected Marxist President in the hemisphere, was the confessed turning point of her life.  Forced to face and, ultimately, to flee a systematically imposed reign of terror under the Pinochet regime, Allende emigrated with (her family) to Venezuela.”

Out of this nexus of love and loss, hope and terror, have grown lyrical and popular literary labors.  Out of this cauldron have appeared her “overtly political (work that) address(es) through a love story the horrors of the ‘disappeared,’ who were taken off by the …authorities to be secretly tortured and murdered, but whose bodies were never returned.”

One could easily continue, but these additions to the groundwork of previous sections will further anchor what we have to learn about the bard from the barnyard, Victor Jara.  For his rise to prominence depended on this supportive hammock that Chilean literature and music and culture has provided to its people, despite all the contradictions and tensions and polarities that were also present.

Mural_Victor_JaraVictor Jara’s Iconic Presence

Once in a while, a man’s life, or a woman’s existence, so crystallizes an age that its narrative can become a key component of consciousness.  Victor Jara embodies core themes of contemporary existence in this way.  His dirt-poor rural roots; his soulful transformation of deeply religious teachings into a revolutionary social message; his joyous capacity to sing and perform and communicate with people that led him to attain truly a global audience that included all but fascist social milieus; his rising above the machismo and chauvinism that were a powerful component of his culture, so as to revere women as equal partners; to achieve the insight necessary to identify messages critical to human advance, even survival, and then to show the skill to craft those ideas in accessible ways, in various media, and then to demonstrate the courage essential to voice these views despite threats and assaultive violence; these were all characteristics of this actor and director and folklorist and folksinger and social justice activist.

The youngest of six boys that a tenant farmer and his wife conceived and bore into the world, his was a world from the time that he began to walk of nature and work.  His father foresaw that six male children would permit his accumulation of land that would allow for social elevation for his family.  As such, he fully intended to deny his youngsters schooling.

This caused a conflict with Victor’s mother, Amanda, who was a wedding singer and a popular folk musician in the region to the South of Santiago where Victor grew up.  She knew the power of words and wanted “at least the letters” to be available to her sons.

Whatever manifold complications and difficulties beset the Jara family, the father ultimately began drinking heavily, and fights between the parents ended with the dissolution of their marriage.  Existence became economically marginal but never lost fulsome spiritual and cultural joie-de-vivre.

When Amanda Jara took work in Santiago in the early 1940’s, she discovered that she had a natural talent for making spaces and operations functional.  Soon enough, she sent for her boys, and the two youngest received disciplined and rigorous training at Catholic elementary schools.  Victor showed early acumen and got a scholarship to more advanced education.

What might have been a rags-to-riches story of a more conventional nature unraveled when his mother died when he was only fifteen.  Not only did this profoundly afflict the youngster, but it also landed him in a seminary where he appreciated the community and the rigor but was able to discern that he lacked anything like a true calling to be a priest.

Within a fortnight of his exit from this training ground, he found himself under the obligation to serve a stint in the military.  Physically, he excelled as a inductee, but his natural shyness and lack of macho made this period extremely difficult.

Upon exiting, however, a series of chance opportunities in the early 1950’s led to his being part of a national choir and having performance options in both theater and dance.  His early scholastic training stood him in good stead, and soon enough he had scholarships to the National University, where he excelled both in folklore pursuits and in drama.

In one of his roles as an actor and dancer, he played opposite Joan Turner, his future wife.  Shortly after their work together, he received a year’s appointment to England, where he continued to excel, to the extent that more than one theater troupe invited him to remain, six thousand miles or so away from his home.

Even at this point, in his early-to-mid twenties, however, he knew that his calling in life was to serve Chile’s and Latin America’s people, so sooner rather than later he returned to his studies and his homeland.  He received offers to direct where he had been studying soon enough.

Upon graduation, his capacity to engage and bring out the best in people led to repeated successes as a director.  So much so was he magical in this ability to orchestrate dramatic production that An Appearance of Happiness, one of the first plays that he produced more or less on his own, ended up touring four other Latin American countries.

One of those countries was Cuba, and he immediately recognized that what was happening in education, in agriculture, in health care, and in the organization of social relations generally, were all apropos to what his family and friends and neighbors had long needed on the West coast of Latin America.  An affiliation with communism matured into an identification as a Communist.

After the early 1960’s, his theater work became more and more political.  His were works that suggested the possibilities for change, the tragedies of reactionary thinking, and the fundamental, core problem of empire—or as he would put it, of “Yankee imperialism.”  In the late 1960’s, he produced a version of Viet Rock that ended up being wildly popular, one of several other touring gigs that took him to Western and Eastern Europe and Russia and the United States, as well as traveling on other occasions to various Latin American venues.  He even met with and dedicated a song to a Vietnamese delegation in Scandinavia as the war there was turning decisively against the United States.

Parallel to his theatrical labors, he continued to collect and curate folksongs and folk stories of Chile.  His voice’s sweet tenor clarity, his glorious good looks, and his natural enthusiasm on stage led to his making contact with such musicians and seminal Chilean performers as Violetta Parra, with whose son Victor formed a lifelong friendship.

Angel Parra purportedly was responsible for Victor’s rise as a folk-singing star.  The young Parra had started a club in Santiago—soon replicated elsewhere in Chile—where intimate spaces and freewheeling songfests began to draw regular and enthusiastic crowds.

At one such outpouring of song and energy, Angel supposedly threw a guitar to Victor in the audience and commanded, “Ahora, a cantar!”  Before long, recording contracts, international chances to play, and a lifelong adoration of Pete Seeger translated into people’s more commonly recalling him as a songbird rather than an actor and director and producer.

The key point in this regard is that all of this effort was much the same for Victor.  The purpose of his life was the engagement with communities, the creation of performance and touching of consciousness in such a way as to impel common folks to develop a regard for their power, an understanding of their lives and problems, and a willingness to try to do things on their own behalf.

Again and again, the still young singer and creator made this clear in his public articulation of his life.  He was a servant of the people, and success—with its measures of love and joy, challenge and conflict—was something that he measured in terms other than those of the music business accountant.  His was a mission to shift the world rather than to become, in the American paradigm, “rich and famous.”

‘New Songs,’ New Politics—Salvador Allende’s & Unidad Popular’s Social Roots

The huge role that the so-called ‘New-Song movement’ played in the popular embrace of Salvador Allende’s faith in democratic socialism would be difficult to overestimate.  While plenty of intellectual Marxists—and even, despite their suspicions of the petty bourgeois, communisty thinkers and strategists—supported this longstanding political activist, his Unidad Popular Party was overwhelmingly a working class and grassroots movement that increasingly also drew adherents from among poor rural populations.

A to-some-extent fortunate confluence coincided with this development as the 1960’s came to a close.  The Communists had long supported folk musicians such as Violeta Parra, as well as new groups such as Quilapayun also affiliated with party goals and played at events and festivals that were radical and progressive.

But only when the party pressed a few hundred Long-Play records and instantly sold them all did this energy become a phenomenon that could truly finance a campaign.  After helping to elect Allende, in fact, the Communist ‘label,’ DICAP, was selling nearly a quarter million albums a year.  Moreover, after the U.P. electoral victory, Allende’s cultural ministry partially nationalized the primary large commercial recording operation in the country, owned by RCA, which led both to expanded volume and sales—the ‘local’ operation had held down its output to promote North American products—to further inroads by radicals of various stripes in the cultural realm.

A hugely successful annual folk festival, cosponsored by the Catholic University, started in 1968, and this too advanced the Nueva Cancion Chilena further still.  As chronicler Nancy Morris points out, Jara from its inception became even more popular than he already was, splitting a significant prize at the first gathering for the Best Song.

Nor did this suggest even a tiny diminution of political fervor or poignant social commentary.  Plegaria a un Labrador, or Prayer to a Peasant, was the winning number, and it very explicitly advocated rural/urban working class unity, a strategic goal of import on the part of both U.P. and the Communist Party.

Angel Parra and Victor Jara both had played for Allende through his 1964 and 1970 campaigns, the first one a narrow loss that resulted in part because of CIA propaganda and fiscal support for Eduardo Frei.  The rise of a broad based movement stemmed from a mixture of this political connection and the deeply felt working class identification of an honestly community-based musical upsurge.  The cultural dimension of politics became central to developing winning coalitions and strategies.

Though one might find reason to explore much more broadly and deeply in this matter of the cultural connection in Allende’s rise to power, one further point bears special note.  The party’s rousing campaign song, Venceremos!, or We Will Win!, was addictive in its tuneful harmony and roused crowds of many thousands, or tens of thousands repeatedly during the campaign.

One annalist of ‘victory’ put the case thus.  “When the socialist politician Salvador Allende dramatically won Chile’s presidential election in 1970, a powerful cultural movement accompanied him to power.  Folk singers emerged at the forefront, proving that music could help forge the birth of a new society.  As the CIA actively funded opposition media against Allende during his campaign, the New Chilean Song Movement rose to prominence, viscerally persuading voters with its music.  Víctor Jara, a central protagonist at the time, became an icon in Chile, Latin America, and beyond for his revolutionary lyrics and life.  Inti-Illimani, Quilapayún, and other musicians contributed by singing before audiences of workers outside factories or campesinos in Chile’s rural countryside.”

Nor did the fervor of this eruption of popular folk culture diminish after Allende’s ascension to the chief executive’s position.  On the contrary, it at least held its own through 1973, acting to expand its lyrical and performance outreach in both theater and poetry and dance as well as song.  Lack of commercial pressure meant that more people were listening, seeing, and otherwise participating in an actual artistic scene, instead of more money flowing to profit centers because of more sales of commodities that had only a random connection to either artistry or human need.

“Within this climate of affiliation with art, popular musicians moved decisively toward the creation of instrumental music with high levels of sophistication. Three factors came together in the rise of instrumental music within the context of NCC: the existence of instrumental music in Andean culture, which fed strongly into the NCC movement, as we have seen, and appeared in the work of Violeta Parra and Víctor Jara; the use of instrumental music as incidental music for theater and dance; and the exploration of the possibilities of the guitar, NCC’s central instrument.”

The evidence of this phenomenon—musical, visual, and documentary—rouse a sense of wonder at the power of el pueblo.  Astonishment at the capacity of people to mobilize and connect with self-expression and artistic creations, for their own purposes rather than for commerce, offers an object lesson in what the intersection of culture and politics might be.

In the event, one might legitimately advance a thesis that part of what Pinochet guaranteed his Yankee sponsors was that no more of such a nonsensical practice —people-powered, grassroots, not-for-profit art—would occur under Augusto’s august and violent imprimatur.  Whatever the case may be, after assassinating the political elite of the Unidad Popular, a substantial number of the prioritized contract killings were against artists, of which Victor Jara’s is the most infamous.

One of the new juntas first acts was the precise outlawing of Nueva Cancion Chilena itself.  Artists fled the country as fast as news of Jara’s severed fingers spread —or perhaps Junta thugs had merely battered and broken Jara’s hands.

In addition to providing yet another proof that ‘free markets’ are at absolute best fraudulent poses, a further upshot of this unfolding, CIA-sponsored mayhem, was a complete marginalization of community culture or grassroots artistic participation.   “Under the military dicatorship, the task of Canto Nuevo(N.C.C.’s successor) has been to communicate the reality of a people whose outlets for group expression and social interaction have been intentionally and systematically restricted.  As such, Canto Nuevo has been inherently dissident and marginalized since its inception.”

As Operation Condor took shape in the aftermath of Washington’s and Santiago’s collaboration in crimes against humanity, the spread of ‘new-song’ camps might have experienced some degree of a tempering of what had appeared to be likely to show up as a wildfire event in much of the region.  Pinochet’s thugs and the torture that they practiced do not permit an answer to this question, for what had blossomed in Chile had succumbed to scorched-earth tactics at the behest of Yankee capital.

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX A503

A Crushing Coup—Murder’s Signature Centrality to U.S. Imperial Sway

As noted above, rational disagreement about the broad parameters of what actually happened in Chile over the decade 1965-75 is impossible.  Murder and mayhem, spycraft and sabotage, lies and deceit, fraud and depredation against a democratically socialist Chile established the ‘order-of-battle’ in such a fashion that the United States never deviated from this criminal construction of plunder and plutocracy.

Joan Jara, Victor’s wife and the author of his biography, Victor Jara: An  Unfinished Songsummarized that the final authorization for overthrowing Allende, a directive that was a death warrant for her husband, probably resulted not from Unidad Popular’s problems but from the fact that the majority of Chileans were better off despite all-out economic warfare on the part of the U.S. against Chile.

Ms. Jara called U.P.’s gaining of seats and popular votes in Chile’s midterm elections, both of which happened early in 1973, “almost unprecedented” in Chilean history.  Moreover, anti-feminist attacks on Allende had backfired, as women were continuing to vote their interests and not reactionary, Church-backed fantasies.

In this context, Victor Jara, though very anxious and ‘out-of-his-element’ as a public speaker, took to the stump to warn of Yankee and plutocrat plans for plunder. “(F)or the first time in his life … he made campaigning political speeches.  It wasn’t a moment to hang back and say, ‘No, I can’t.  I’m an artist, not a politician.’  It made Victor very nervous because he wasn’t used to that kind of speaking, but he was ready to do anything that was useful, and in his own informal way he explained to people why it was necessary, at all costs, to support the Popular Unity government and to prevent the reactionary opposition from overthrowing Allende before his term as President was completed.  The rapid rise of fascism in Chile had to be halted.”

But the writing was literally ‘on the wall’ that fascism was the treasonous Chilean elites’ general response to such social improvement.  “Djakarta’s coming” warnings sprouted everywhere, spray painted graffiti, dripping blood red threat, “a reminder of the massacre of hundreds of thousands of communists in Indonesia in 1965.”

Peter Kornbluh’s work through the National Security Archive at George Washington University has led the powerful exposition of the U.S. thuggery in recruiting, financing, and operationalizing mass murder in Chile.  This is not how Professor Kornbluh would state the matter.  He is a careful scholar.

“That the secrecy surrounding Chile and U.S. relations with Pinochet has been maintained for so long reflects both the controversial nature of this past, as well as its continuing relevance to the ongoing and future debate over American interventions abroad and the moral foundations of U.S. foreign policy.  The declassified documents in the following pages are, in essence, a dossier in atrocity and accountability, addressing not only the general and his regime, but also the shameful record of U.S. support for bloodshed and dictatorship.”

In the eleven years since he published The Pinochet File, the director of the National Security Archive’s Chile Documentation Project has become more forceful in his accusations.  Just recently in Foreign Affairs, he gained access to the establishment forum’s pages to make his case quite strongly indeed.  He was responding to an earlier article, “What Really Happened in Chile?” that argued that the entire mess was in the nature of a series of unfortunate events, a combination of errors all around and overreaching on the part of Santiago’s armed forces.

“In (Jack Devine’s) view, the military coup and the bloody Pinochet dictatorship, which lasted nearly 17 years, were unfortunate but unintended consequences.  But that is not what really happened in Chile.  …(I)n the fall of 1970, U.S. President Richard Nixon ordered the CIA to orchestrate a military putsch that would prevent the recently elected Allende from assuming office. …Devine benignly characterizes (this) as a misguided covert action.  In fact, (it) centered on a violent criminal scheme.  The plan was to kidnap Chile’s commander in chief, General René Schneider, who firmly opposed the idea of a military coup.  ‘The CIA was aware of the plan,’ Devine notes, as if the agency were an innocent bystander, simply gathering intelligence on the operation.  The truth is far more sinister.  The Schneider operation was a CIA-sponsored plot: CIA officials pressed the agency’s station in Santiago to come up with a way to ‘remove’ Schneider because he was standing in the way of a military coup.  CIA representatives met repeatedly with the conspirators, led by a retired Chilean army general, Roberto Viaux, and an active-duty brigadier general, Camilo Valenzuela.  On October 19, CIA headquarters sent the station six untraceable submachine guns and ammunition in a diplomatic pouch, to be provided to the plotters.  The agency also provided $50,000 to Valenzuela to bankroll the operation and thousands more to Viaux to keep the operation ‘financially lubricated,’ as one CIA cable stated.  Given the risks involved, the CIA issued the plotters life insurance policies.”

Nor does Kornbluh focus only on the early days of Allende’s regime and the attempts then to unseat the nearly-elected President.  Both in his book and his various other writings on this massive crime against humanity that the United States orchestrated, he details the way that U.S. operatives and their counterparts in the Southern Cone established the necessary protocols for either a ‘surgical removal’ of Allende, or, if he refused to cooperate, his assassination.

In his just-published article, this careful scholar notes, “A May 1973 memorandum to CIA Director James Schlesinger noted that the agency had ‘accelerated efforts against the military target’ in order to ‘better monitor any coup plotting and bring our influence to bear on key military commanders so that they might play a decisive role on the side of the coup forces.’  Moreover, the CIA was not the only part of the U.S. government bringing its influence to bear.  The U.S. Department of Defense also maintained contact with the generals.  Indeed, a full year before the coup, U.S. military officials met with Pinochet and his aides in the Panama Canal Zone.  A declassified intelligence report recorded Pinochet’s belief that Allende ‘must be forced to step down or be eliminated’ and a clear message from U.S. Army officers in response: the ‘U.S. will support [a] coup against Allende with ‘whatever means necessary’ when the time comes.’”

In other words, as Victor Jara sweated over his ‘toastmaster’ duties and his wife worried about implicit threats to their lives, the U.S. was one hundred percent behind the conspiracy to torture and maim and kill and ‘disappear’ those who stood for social progress in Chile.  Moreover, hundreds of thousands of pages from the State Department, the CIA, earlier investigations such as the Church Senate Committee Hearings, and more, further amplify the vicious impunity with which the ‘leaders of the free world’ have conducted themselves toward our ‘good neighbor’ to the South.

These records, likely now representing a majority of the once uniformly classified and unavailable documentation of U.S. and Chilean elite-perfidy, are far from all the assessments that indict the Nixon, Kissinger, Pinochet, and the entire array of lower-level personnel and institutional arrangements that characterize the ‘Military-Industrial-Complex,’ the ‘Intelligence-Establishment,’ or any of the other descriptors of United States empire.  While we needn’t explore anything like a complete range of such items, a few additional investigations do implore citizens to take note and pay attention.

The stalwart folks at School of America’s Watch convey to the interested researcher that plus-or-minus one-in-seven of Chile’s officer corps in the 1970’s had studied at the so-called School of the Americas.  The nickname ‘School of Assassins’ was in large measure a rational descriptor.  Augusto Pinochet was not one of them, but the U.S. has named a building at the ‘campus’ in his ‘honor.’

The Spanish language training manuals from SOA detailed for enrolled officers the niceties of infiltrating popular organizations, planting agents provocateurs, planning assassinations, conducting tortures of various sorts, and so on and so forth.  This was the training for democracy that the U.S. Department of Defense conducted at its facility in Panama, which eventually relocated to Fort Benning in Georgia, where it remains to this day, a target for an annual mass demonstration just before Thanksgiving.  The protest opposes teaching ‘public servants’ the crafts of murder and mayhem, and the gathering commemorates the millions of SOA victims, including those from Chile, such as Victor Jara.

A substantial spate of publications from the period prior to substantial declassification, as well as additional investigators since President Clinton’s orders in 1999 and 2000 to open up the secrecy vaults just a tad, has also proffered data and analysis of the horrors that U.S. authorities planned and financed against untold thousands of Chilean—and later other Latino—victims.

To suggest the import of what is accessible, we will examine a single such article from Atlantic Magazine in 1982.  Legendary investigator Seymour Hersh delivered “The Price of Power—Kissinger, Nixon and Chile.”  Twenty years prior to Peter Kornbluh’s work, with only informants and clever acuity in documentary research, Hersh assembled a powerful case—based on documentation, testimony, and circumstance—that the U.S. had criminally deposed Salvador Allende.

The able author assembles a litany of facts and analysis to show criminal conspiracy, accessory to murder, and general skullduggery on the part of President Nixon and Henry Kissinger, his National Security Adviser.  Others too played occasionally crucial but often ancillary or support roles.

One of Hersh’s witnesses was a Navy Yeoman who had just replaced a civilian secretary in an extremely optimum job for finding things out.  He assisted the Admiral who acted as liaison between the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Security Council.

While this lengthy and deeply reported analysis contains many revelations, this young Mormon enlisted man, in pursuit of a commission and a career in service to his country and his God and freedom, gives readers a dose of the horror and tragedy that have typified American foreign policy for well over the last century.

His superior officer “was deeply involved in the secret Kissinger and Nixon operations against Salvador Allende Gossens…who had astounded the Central Intelligence Agency and the White House by winning the September 4 popular election… .  Radford, who arrived at his new post a few weeks after the Chilean election, vividly recalls the sense of crisis: ‘This wasn’t supposed to happen.  It was a real blow.  All of a sudden, the pudding blew up on the stove.’  Admiral Robinson and his superiors were ‘wringing their hands’ over Chile, Radford says, ‘almost as if they [the Chileans] were errant children.’  Over the next few weeks, Radford says, he saw many sensitive memoranda and options papers, as the bureaucracy sought to prevent Allende from assuming office.  Among the options was a proposal to assassinate Allende.  One options paper ‘discussed various ways of doing it,’ Radford says.  ‘Either we have somebody in the country do it, or we do it ourselves.  I was stunned; I was aghast.  It stuck in my mind so much because for the first time in my life, I realized that my government actively was involved in planning to kill people.’  The options papers had been prepared for Nixon in the weeks after Allende’s election.  ‘They were exploring ways to get Allende out of there,’ Radford says, and murder was one of the ways.  The thrust of the option was clear: ‘I don’t know if they used the word assassinate, but it was to get rid of him, to terminate him—he was to go.’”

Additional context for what this young recruit discovered about his country was that all of this planning to crucify Chile’s democracy was taking place in “one of the CIA’s success stories” from the 1960’s.  The agency had manipulated elections, bought media and politicians with equal alacrity, and generally run the country like a casino for the copper companies and purveyors of soft-drinks and telecommunications services.

From an entirely different background and perspective Peter Winn also has an immense trove of data and insight to convey to willing readers.  Studying Chile while on sabbatical from Yale when the coup happened, he might nearly have found himself alongside Victor Jara at the notorious stadium and its killing fields.  He was trying to collect oral histories—of which he already had several hundred—from the just recently dispossessed workers who had maintained control, before Allende’s murder, of the giant Yarur Textile Mill near Santiago.

In early December, “I was denounced anonymously, detained by the Army, and taken at bayonet point to a regimental barracks, where I was interrogated at midnight by its commander.  After three days of interrogation and investigation, he informed me, ‘We have no proof that you have committed a crime, exactly speaking, Professor Winn, but talking with workers, interviewing union leaders, all this is very suspicious.  We do not want anyone talking to our workers.”

What the courageous academic conveys in his monograph, Weavers of Revolution: the Yarur Workers and Chile’s Road to Socialism, is that under Allende the nationalized factory at Yarur, the largest textile operation in Chile was succeeding.  Despite the concerted efforts of every powerbroker and gatekeeper with whom the company had to deal as a labor collective, wages were up, productivity was up, efficiency was way up, and the enterprise was viable in terms of income and outgo.

Nor were these former wage-earners and current owner-operators alone.  Various other firms that Chile had turned over to employees were also making a go of things.  This was the context for the march—hundreds of thousands of people in the streets of Santiago in support of socialism—in the waning Southern Hemispheric Winter of 1972, exactly one year and one week before the unleashing of well-plotted homicidal mania.

“One month later, a work stoppage by a small group of truck owners in… .the far South…triggered a national walkout and lockout by merchants and manufacturers, professionals and shopkeepers, that rapidly engulfed Chile in a virtual class war, complete with paramilitary attacks and terrorist bombings.  At bottom Paro de Octobre…was a ‘general strike’ of the bourgeoisie, intended to demonstrate their power as a class, stop the advance toward socialism, and create the conditions within which Allende could be ousted—by military coup or Congressional impeachment.”

The “Demands of Chile,” the product of a year’s planning that in retrospect one can say definitely involved support from U.S. institutions, were non-negotiable.  Either Popular Unity would “reverse its revolutionary course, abandon its socialist goals, and surrender its political project,” or the deluge would ensue.

Salvador Allende died defending his theretofore democratic approach to revolution with a machine gun in his hands.  While some of his closest comrades joined him, most of the toilers at the cotton mill demurred at the notion of ‘armed resistance.’  The time for the training and equipping to effect such an eventuality was many months, or even years, prior to Pinochet’s pragmatic execution of mass murder.

Communists had advised against such steps as training and arming the work force to resist the military in the event of a coup “as provocative, and the Socialists and the MIR(Moviemiento de lzquierda Revolucionaria, or Movement of the Revolutionary Left) proved themselves ‘just theoreticians, not practical revolutionaries,’ who failed to prepare for the military coup that they themselves had predicted.”

A few handfuls of plants and firms did resist the putsch.  The junta deployed its completely equipped modern heavy weaponry against these makeshift ‘barricades’ one by one and crushed them all.  “Within a week, the illusion of ‘popular power’ had been destroyed, leftist fantasies of a division in the military or a popular rising dispelled, and a military dictatorship consolidated.  The fighting was over, but the killing had just begun.  During the weeks that followed, some 25,000 Chileans were killed by their own armed forces.”

This would amount to plus-or-minus a million casualties in a nation the size of today’s United States.  This meticulous and clearly brilliant and brave young professor explained why these barbaric steps were essential from the perspective of the Chilean ruling class—and, behind the scenes, their gringo sponsors.

Chile’s increasingly organized and militant working class was the only social force that might muster the capacity to oppose the military.  Thus, calculated decimation was an important lesson to impart, along with firings and blacklists and permanent unemployment for as much as 20% of the industrial leftists who, unslaughtered, remained behind.

“The scope and intensity of the repression reflected the extent and depth of popular mobilization in Chile by September, 1973.  It was an ironic tribute to the success of the revolution from below.”

Did Pinochet at least ‘make the trains run on time,’ as the pundit apologists for Mussolini suggested about Il Duce?   This is in some ways the most noisome aspect of the whole affair.  The moderate and conservative members of the working class, the vaunted ‘shopkeepers’ and small business owners—many of whom nodded smugly at the butcher’s butchery—as well as the young and the old and anyone socially vulnerable, were all, within a decade of Pinochet’s predatory rampage, more or less utterly destitute, with prospects worse than ever before in verdant Chile’s modern history.

How and why this transpired, though, truly describes the parameters of a tragedy.  One assessment develops this reasoning clearly and incisively.

“Pinochet, with the help of 400 CIA advisers, privatized the social and welfare system and destroyed the Chilean trade union movement.  As Malcolm Coad pointed out: ‘This was achieved through wholesale privatisation, a complete opening to the international economy, fixing the exchange rate artificially low, and pumping in foreign loans during the petro-dollar glut of the late 1970s.  The result was the destruction of national industry and much of agriculture, then near-collapse in the early 1980s amid a frenzy of speculation, consumer imports, and debt crisis.  The state bailed out most of the country’s banking sector and unemployment rose to an official level of over 30 per cent.’”

And yet still additional sources ought to be on the conscientious observer’s radar screen so to speak.  At the very least, such repositories as the following need to be available for examination.

*The Defense Intelligence Agency’s and National Security Agency’s records without any doubt contain masses of still-secret datasets that would help understand processes and protocols in this case.

*Financial, industrial, and media archives that are either miraculously open or possibly liable to legal discovery—particularly among the food processing, copper, and services companies that already show up as part of CIA planning, need to be under scrutiny, and researchers need to develop plans to obtain such records.

*Massive archives in Spanish, not only in Chile, but in other Operation CONDOR States are generally not on the roadmap of English readers; this needs to change, and quickly.

*Cuban and possibly other State-level sources of data also contain material that could completely upend ‘plausible deniability’ in these matters; in addition to discerning what holdings might be accessible in Havana, the records of Bolivia, Argentina, and Venezuela might be caches that a clever researcher might get hold of.

*Court and administrative records from both the United States and abroad, in both civil and criminal filings, are often full of attachments to motions and other pleadings; with the right leverage and plenty of diligence, at least some of such materials might yield occasional treasures.

In considering such monumental tasks as this essay introduces, in even making ourselves aware of the information that exists if we’re willing to ferret it out, the basic question that comes to mind is simple to state: “How much do we want to know about how the world really works?”  And we might add, “How badly do we want to find out?”

The Spindoctor not only desperately loves to probe how things operate, but he also can’t help himself: he wants people to start acting like they want to be responsible citizens despite how risky that seems, despite what a complete and utter pain-in-the-ass the whole process can be.  He asks that readers who manage to get this far, at the very heart of this narrative, listen to a young woman from Chile, one of the interviewees for this project.  She is the great granddaughter of the junta’s first possible victim, Arturo Araya III, who died on July 27, 1973 with a bullet in his lung, while the ambulance that his in-laws had summoned failed to appear for nearly an hour.

Here is the question that Josefa fielded from us.  “As someone born after 1990, what role do you think the dictatorship has in your life, and that of your generation?  Does it affect you, and if so, how?”

And this is how she answered.  “It affects us tremendously, and for many reasons. More than anything I think it’s a thing about a common history, and building a collective identity; we are located in a social context that is marked everywhere by the things that happened during the dictatorship.  Everything from the laws that govern our country and shape our lives up to the fact that the dictatorship left the social fabric fractured.  For me, the dictatorship is a very deep wound in Chilean collective memory, perhaps the worst in our history, because it made Chileans confront and seek to destroy each other.  I think that in order to heal the wound much is still missing: it is a process that is not yet even half accomplished.  People of generations that did not live through it (nevertheless) live in the aftermath (that it) left and … continues to manifest.  We all carry the weight of what happened during the dictatorship somehow—some in more direct ways and others more indirectly, but we all live on(in this world that comes from then) after all.  We know people who had relatives who disappeared as prisoners, or people whose parents or grandparents were involved in the disappearances.  (Not just) at a social level, but all areas of the Chilean social life are marked by what happened.”

Resisting State-Sponsored Terror—Inside Chile & Out

Direccion de Intelligentsia Nacional, or DINA, evolved as a result of such institutional expressions of U.S. hegemony as the Central Intelligence Agency, of course.  Moreover, however, the already-mentioned Western Hemispheric Institute for Security Cooperation, the former School of the Americas, continued to provide training to its special agents.

Many socialists and communists from Latin America see the Allende administration as an experiment.  In such a view, perhaps a non-violent mechanism for achieving fundamental social change would be possible.

This underlay the decision not to arm workers, despite all the signs that the U.S. would support a vile killing thrust against a democratically selected group of leaders, and despite all the evidence of history that then vast numbers of innocents would likely face torture and painful death and disappearance at the hands of plotters and psychopaths and efficiency experts in charge of electroshock and clean-up.  That the results of this science project in the political arts do not look favorable to friendly approaches to social change is, to say the least, an understatement.

Nor did the aftermath of the first months of slaughter attenuate such a dire perspective, as Professor Winn made clear above.  Two very brief additional bits will round out this section.

One was the inability of the ‘theorists’ at MIR to mount a successful underground resistance to Pinochet’s fascism.  Within a year of the putsch, more or less, Miguel Enriquez and other leaders of the organization were all dead or effectively no longer present and accounted for in Chile.

The other was the much wider scope that Chile’s terrorism assumed in the years following its mass killing of its own citizens.  This basically concerned such joint ventures as mutual assistance among assassins in Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Chile, and Uruguay, which we now know as Operation CONDOR.

The assassination of a Chilean military man in Argentina who remained loyal to Allende, Carlos Prats, caused a significant outcry at the time.  Lawsuits against the perpetrators have made their way through the Federal Courts of the United States.  Some evidence suggests that various official agents of the United States played roles in the work of the cooperating Southern Cone intelligence agencies.

The second instance of a broadening of the reach of Chile’s ‘terror police,’ the DINA, involved a massive car bomb on the streets of the District of Columbia.  The assassination of an opponent of Pinochet, Orlando Letelier, not only severed the former diplomats legs but also killed his assistant, Ronnie Moffitt, and caused crippling injuries to Ms. Moffitt’s husband.

jara-etcFrom Cautious Democratic Resurgence to Attempted Truth & Reconciliation

Many generations might need to pass before anything like general or routine comity could be possible.  John L. Rector’s The History of Chile concludes with a sober note that, even after thirty years, recriminations between Communists and the “far right” of the U.D.I. continue—if not unabated, then still powerful.

A retired Naval officer from Chile, Arturo Araya IV, also noted this tendency.  “All many people want now is to be victims and to blame Pinochet and the government for their problems.”  He also mentions how, in his estimation, “almost all” the former adherents of the dictator skulk about “with guilty expressions on their faces, turning every corner as if they suspect they will soon be arrested.”

He himself initiated a lawsuit against the military for its possible role and likely cover-up of the killing of his father, the Naval attaché whose connections with Cuba may have played a part in his targeting.  He and others in the family, who had in general accepted Pinochet’s rule when it happened and on occasion strongly backed it, gathered together after Señor Araya had issued a press release that announced the Court’s acceptance of this litigation.

Moreover, the recent trials and possible convictions of some of the men responsible for Victor Jara’s torture and murder have come to pass.  His widow, his children, his supporters still honor his life and celebrate such steps as these developments, which they view as something resembling moves toward justice and validation.

Joan Jara, who lost her husband forty-one years ago, has also initiated a civil suit in the United States, applying the Alien Torts Claim Act and other theories.  She is seeking damages for the extrajudicial torture and murder of her husband by Pedro Barrientos, who now lives in Miami, one of the lieutenants in charge of the folksinger at the stadium that now bears Victor Jara’s name.

Whatever transpires in such matters, the original amnesties for military personnel that Pinochet negotiated in 1989 no longer apply uniformly.  Just now, President Michelle Bachelet—whose father of course was a victim of the Pinochetistas—has announced while visiting Mexico to show solidarity for disappeared students there the sentencing of eleven former agents of the junta.  Manuel Contreras, the leading killer among them all—each of whose convictions were for promoting “forced disappearance”—faces 426 years in prison for his crimes.

Yet other interviewees suggest that “nobody is much interested in all that old stuff.”  And, no doubt, ‘life goes on,’ as the saying would have us believe.

Still, though one might develop a much longer discourse about this set of issues, even a cursory glimpse of contemporary Chile does prove that some citizens continue to struggle with the concepts of truth and reconciliation.  That such a focus persists may offer the only hope for avoiding a repeat of 9/11/1973.

A distinguished Chilean scholar has expressed this idea most forcefully.  Manuel Carreton argues that without “an official commemoration, we have no country.”  The award-winning sociologist specifies both the what and the how of such a process.  ”A great need exists for a formal collective memory, transmitted through the educational system, quantified by measures of justice and truth, but also of punishment.”

He completes his presentation with concepts with which arguably every American, whether Northern or Southern in origin, needs to be familiar.  “The national conscience must become one about this, one that condemns the military coup and the violation of human rights.  Making a purely political assessment of our historical past, and not a moral one, will do more to divide us than to unite us and help move Chile forward.

book hor2

Concluding Concepts—Imperialism & Humanity Can No Longer Coexist

Near the end of a long journey, this narrative would hope that readers consider six points in conclusion.  Prior to stating those items, the narrator asks folks to ponder a chilling bit of nihilism that one of history’s hypercapitalists expressed over a century before the here and now.

In essence, if we are to avoid eviscerating ourselves, we must avoid fulfilling the prophecy of robber baron Jay Gould.  “I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half.”

With the possible exception of Costa Rica, the United States has joined with ruling elites in every Hispanic or Portuguese speaking country in the hemisphere so as to cause Gould’s ghoulish prediction to transpire.  Che Guevara, in speaking of the U.S. attempts to unseat Cuba’s revolution, articulates this notion in terms that are national in their scope and yet obviously entail one sector of workers’ seeking to destroy another proletarian contingent.

“From the beginning, it was generally understood in Latin America that the United States backed the invasion (at the Bay of Pigs), and that it would therefore be successful (of course, it was not),… a fait accompli… .  (Total puppets) Haiti and the Dominican Republic … had already broken or suspended relations with Cuba… . Honduras joined the anti-Castro camp, suspending relations in April and proposing the formation of an alliance of Central American and Caribbean nations to have it out with Cuba by force.  The proposal—which was also suggested independently by Nicaragua—was quietly dropped” when the rest of the hemisphere either vacillated or actively and strongly opposed any such scheme of using the working class soldiers of the hemisphere to snuff the Cuban rejection of imperial domination.  Notably, in Chile, “the government found strong opposition in all circles to open military intervention by any state against the Castro regime.”

In these presentations, Che Guevara was quoting from a lengthy U.S. State Department cable that the Cubans had intercepted.  Later in this missive, the gringos demonstrate further their playing the role of Mr. Gould in seeking to set one set of toilers against another.

“In every respect, (despite the failure of the Bay of Pigs operation), the member states of the OAS are now less hostile toward United States intervention in Cuba than before the invasion, but a majority of them—including … more than half the population of Latin America(in Mexico and Brazil)—are not willing to intervene actively or even to join a quarantine against Cuba. …(Especially), (a)s long as Brazil refuses to act against Castro, it is probably that a number of other nations, including Argentina and Chile, will not wish to risk adverse internal repercussions to please the United States.”

As the rambling cable draws to a close, it expresses why a nation, like Gould, might want to hire ‘half the working class’ to destroy the other half.  “The most immediate danger of Castro’s example for Latin America might well be the danger to the stability of those governments that are at present attempting evolutionary social and economic change, rather than for those that have tried to prevent such changes, in part because of the tensions and awakened hopes accompanying such social changes and economic development. …The Alliance for Progress might well furnish the stimulus to carry out more intensive reform programs, but unless these programs are started quickly and soon begin to show positive results,…they will not be enough of a counterweight to increasing pressure from the extreme left.  The years ahead will…witness a race between those forces that are attempting to initiate evolutionary reform programs and those that are trying to generate support by the masses for fundamental economic and social revolution.”

A FIRST DEDUCTION

Of course, Che was not Chilean.  Nor were clear violations of international law against Cuba attacks on Chile.  But these evident admissions impel the thinker to a first inference that flows from this essay: the decimation of Salvador Allende and allies like Victor Jara both intended to hurt and sought to undermine Cuba’s revolution, and by extension the possibility to obtain social democracy in Latin America’s ‘real world.’

In similar fashion as the poet and singer whose profiles appear here, Che was the loathed serpent in capital’s faux edenic garden, where at least the rich lived like emperors and empresses, and more or less everything was on sale for money to purchase.  He was Fidel’s comrade and persisted in advancing the idea of a hemispheric armed uproar against gringo wealth and hegemony.

Moreover, real links joined Havana and Santiago.  One of Che’s chief financial advisers in restructuring Cuban agriculture and industry was the Chilean, Carlos Romeo.  A member of the inner circle of Chile’s national bank under both Frei and Allende, Romeo demonstrated both technical excellence and socialist fervor in his practice of economics.

Pablo Neruda also promoted the Cuban revolution as a model; more importantly, he foresaw that the consciousness of Cuban success would free his countrymen and working people around the world from any slavish devotion to ‘free markets,’ which were never free, to commoditized models which ultimately impoverished workers to exactly the extent that they enriched the owners of everything, to holy righteousness that suppressed the true spirit and lusty wonder of human life.

And Victor Jara himself formed friendships in Cuba.  He and Silvio Rodriguez sang together.  Cuba received him as a distinguished guest.  He also traveled more than once to the Soviet Union.

Moreover, even though Cuba’s more-or-less victorious uprising against capital’s various ‘mobs’ depended on armed and aggressive action, Cuba’s leadership in general suggested that Chile’s citizens commit themselves to a peaceful path to social democracy.  Such statements were often enough completely explicit.

In 1971, “(s)tanding shoulder to shoulder with President Salvador Allende, Castro advised workers that Chile was not Cuba and that, in light of that country’s history, a parliamentary path, not a revolutionary one, would represent the ‘Chilean road to socialism.’  The result was the disarming of workers, who were thus unable to undertake an independent revolutionary struggle and were left unprepared for the military and right-wing parties led by the infamous General Augusto Pinochet, which overthrew Allende and installed a dictatorship that killed tens of thousands of workers.”

Finally, two of the people that this essay’s developers interviewed about this matter also mentioned the importance of Cuba.  One of these has requested anonymity.  Monica Hayden, the other, had married the son of the naval attaché, Arturo Araya, Junior, whose murder on July 27, 1973, may have been the first strike against those members of the military who eschewed the coup.  She pointed out that her former father-in-law had often worked with the Cubans and had that very evening returned from what he described, immediately before an assassin cut him down, as a “critically important” dinner at the Cuban Embassy.

In all kinds of ways, therefore, both the emanation of Chile’s Marxist moment and its evisceration by a U.S. organized terrorist operation resulted from, or at least felt the substantial influence of, Cuba’s inputs.  That attacks on Allende also assaulted Castro is clearly evident.  And such interconnections form the heart of what we can conclude about empire as seven billion cousins approach the third decade of the second millennium of the present pass.

A SECOND DEDUCTION

Closely related to the initial culminating thought, we ought to acknowledge that anti-communism guarantees anti-solidarity.  The applicability of this idea to Latin America stems from events well before Augusto Pinochet’s murderous rampage.  Pablo Neruda’s flight from his native land was a clear case of anti-communism.  These tendencies became particularly powerful under the aegis of the young CIA during Eisenhower’s two administrations.

Even earlier, in the immediate aftermath of the U.S.’s ‘fanaticism’ in invading the nascent Soviet Union in order to “strangle the Bolshevik infant in its cradle,” U.S. leaders noted the utility of anti-red thinking in Hispanic America.  Republican Secretary of State Frank Kellogg made this point with crystal clarity in 1927.

“The Bolshevik leaders have had very definite ideas in respect to the role which Mexico and Latin America are to play in their general program of world revolution.  They have set up as one of their fundamental tasks the destruction of what they term American imperialism as a necessary prerequisite to the successful development of the international revolutionary movement in the New World. …Thus Mexico and Latin America are conceived as a base of activity against the United States.”

This sort of attitude had practical implications.  In Chile, as we have seen, the CIA shortly after Cuba’s consolidation of its independence initiated sophisticated and potent actions against Allende’s 1964 campaign, based on the notion that he was communist.  Recent scholarship has explored this situation in some detail, explaining precisely how such activity harmed solidarity among workers and other groups that might otherwise have found easier methods for working together.

“In order to prevent Allende’ selection, the U.S. government massively intervened in Chile’s 1964 presidential election (in the form of) the Scare Campaign.  The Scare Campaign was a multimedia propaganda blitz that used fear to convince Chileans that they should vote for Eduardo Frei and against Salvador Allende.  Working in conjunction with Chileans, the U.S. government developed, designed, financed, and implemented the Scare Campaign.  The campaign attempted to convince Chileans, especially women, that Allende’s triumph would lead to the destruction of the family and the undermining of women’sroles as mothers.  By incorporating ideas about femininity and masculinity into its efforts to oppose Allende, this U.S.-sponsored propaganda campaign engendered anticommunism in Chile.”

Other analysis demonstrates that in the run-up to and aftermath of the murder of Allende and Jara and more, the CIA’s operations targeted staunch Catholics.  In the event, many priests and churches were among those that facilitated people’s accepting this barbaric coup as ‘the lesser of two evils,’ given their inclination toward anti-communism that the U.S. had specifically amplified.

The practical upshot is simple, therefore.  If the best interests of U.S. citizens is that Chilean citizens despise and turn on each other, then we should encourage anti-communism.  Otherwise, we should fight it more or less religiously.

A THIRD DEDUCTION

Out of such ideation emerges an acceptance of the necessity of internationalism, and in the context of this storyline the absolute primacy of multilingual capacity, the ability to sing in many tongues, so to speak.  This is, thus far in any event, a mostly pragmatic and common-sense perspective.

The role of cultural outpourings in favor of liberation and justice in one place means that the likelihood of outsiders’ willingness to crush these developments would rise inasmuch as the interlopers lacked the ability to understand the words and stories and songs that were promoting positive transformation.  A quick search of the literature finds no expert concurrence that an idea of exactly this sort would contribute to progress.

Related notions, primarily concerning the operation of academia or the ability to follow literary narratives, do find a place in the recent canon.  In any event, intuitively and rationally, the events of the 1970’s in Chile argue in favor of insisting that more Americans learn Spanish and more Chileans and other Latin Americans understand and speak English.

No matter what else one believes, anyway, the fact that two disparate bodies of knowledge—both of which contain millions of pages or more of documentation and evidence about the realities and beliefs which surround Santiago in 1973—exist, one Spanish and one English, militates in favor of a radical bilingualism.  Nothing else can ever make sense, till the day arrives when the tower-of-Babel itself rises no more.

A FOURTH DEDUCTION

In promoting this deconstruction of Babel, as it were, we would also accede to the utter toxicity of secrecy.  Varied pages from history’s annals reveal a few of the cases that evidence such a contention.

One of the ways that the Bolsheviks totally infuriated their erstwhile ‘allies’ against the Kaiser was in bringing to light the many hidden agendas that World War One’s elite combatants had shared.  Such revelations undermined the sense of a ‘gentleman’s club’ that aristocrats and plutocrats alike wanted to be able to operate without any requisite naming of names or public scrutiny.  Comprehensive histories of intelligence highlight that such presumption always serves as a prominent perquisite of ruling classes, especially in the modern era.

In the current context, multiple non-governmental organizations express their primary objectives in terms of bringing ‘government into the sunshine.’  The entire concept of a ‘Freedom of Information Act’ is that democracy necessitates this sort of access to what is happening.

James Madison states the issue most clearly, though he was writing nearly two hundred years ago.  “A popular government without popular knowledge or the means of acquiring it is but a prelude to a farce or a tragedy or perhaps both.”

In relation to Chile’s past half century, multiple threads portray the hideous results that attend fatuous belief in keeping secrets.  The problem is that, in the words of Leonard Cohen, “everybody knows that the dice were loaded.”  Citizens are the only parties whom duplicity keeps in the dark, so that regular people fail to realize that the allegations against their leaders are true, that the ‘people who hate us’ have good cause to do so, and so on and so forth.

In the final analysis, a widely reviewed monograph—generally extolled by those who favor democracy over secret arrangements for terroristic control, and hated by so-called ‘conservatives’—exhibits the chilling results of governing-by-secret-agendas.  The volume’s title and subtitle summarize this reasoning incisively: Killing Hope: U.S. Military & CIA Interventions Since World War Two.

Augusto Pinochet himself also indicates the way that secrecy and corruption, hypocrisy and horror, fit as seamlessly as a hand in a custom-made glove.  Pinochet—whose murderous ways are now so thoroughly documented that trying to make excuses for the recently deceased homicidal butcher only makes his defenders appear to support killing-in-support of profiteering—enriched himself at every turn of his bloody career.

That this kind of allegation is not allegorical but completely concrete becomes clear when one looks at Pinochet himself.  A 2005 “US Senate investigation of terrorist financing discovered that Pinochet had opened and closed at least 128 bank accounts at Riggs Bank and other US financial institutions in an apparent money-laundering operation.  It seems that Pinochet had illegally obtained a $28m fortune during his period as a dictator of Chile.”  Moreover, as noted in the section above on the dictator’s rule, this self-dealing was part of the payoff that he received for absolutely destroying the Chilean economy in service to profit maximization.

Without much effort, an investigator could make hay in whatever sunshine might be possible to cast on these dark fields for hundreds of thousands of pages or more.  After all, we live in the age that has begun with the initiation of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and the revelation of Daniel Ellsberg, to mention just a pair of instances at the beginning of the last fifty years, and that has ended, literally over the past few instants, in whatever new leak or cover-up or attempt to hide an agenda makes its way to the headlines of the moment.

The conclusion that democratic citizens could make about such events and patterns ought to be possible to state in a way that ordinary folks would nod agreement.  “Since the primary ‘secrets’ in these cases are those that regular people don’t know, and since the harms of such lying hypocrisy almost always affect ordinary people at the same time that they enrich the cognoscenti, we should do away with such governance altogether.”

At the very least, we ought to be debating such propositions.  Instead, the presumption of secrecy’s necessity continues.  Meanwhile, the entire human race could die in a war that such mendacity makes, ultimately, inevitable.

Without the least doubt, another view entirely might also make sense.  We could accede that rich fascist thugs will always practice dark arts of subterfuge and immolation, and that popular resistance to these killers must also therefore deploy the most murderous techniques and hidden methods in order to depose the Nazis and their minions.

If this kind of view appears less than salubrious, one might ponder what we should expect under the circumstances that prevail.  In such a context—in which lies and half-truths in favor of the wealthy rule every policy and statute—citizens, at least arguably, have little choice but to revolt.  An absolute ban on secrecy and a complete affirmation of transparency are the only operational decisions that make any sense in the alternative.

In such a case, Victor Jara might have lived as long as his murderers: Augusto Pinochet and Henry Kissinger, for instance.  Otherwise, simple demands of self-defense turn the artist’s and the humanitarian’s thoughts toward dark and dire deeds indeed.

A FIFTH DEDUCTION

Having attained a vantage which, in most cases, allows our contextualization of reality based on the potential for as complete a compilation of knowledge as is possible, we should praise the power of enculturation and artistic expression and foster persistence in expressing such efforts at storytelling and articulation and depiction.  And here, more or less precisely opposite the situation in regard to the third conclusion bubbles up.  Instead of finding little or nothing in scholarly and authoritative sources about this point, the flood of data and hypothesis would require a lifetime of endeavor to delve in even a rudimentary way.

For example, one might consider the following search.  Storytelling OR narrative OR “literary invention” importance OR critical OR utility, gathers a hundred and thirty-six million citations, more or less.

If we are to make sense of the horrors that seem ubiquitous in recent and historical memory, then stories about these matters arguably could serve humanity better than another tale about superheroes or another film about returning from heaven to console one’s lonely spouse.  Victor Jara’s and Pablo Neruda’s continued place of honor in Chilean society speaks well of a nation with plenty of problems still and all kinds of potential for backsliding.

How about the good old U.S.A.?  Different views are undoubtedly possible in responding to such an inquiry.  Whatever the upshot of such conversations ended up being, however, that the U.S. needs a powerfully grassroots-driven storytelling revival—one that looks fearlessly at such subjects as the ‘original 9/11’—ought to be obvious.

A SIXTH DEDUCTION

Finally, in this fashion of generally examining what seems reasonable to conclude, we might pronounce as critical the belief that atonement and accountability, so long as the actors in a struggle still live, can never arrive too late in a process.  This is another conclusion that one might spend centuries perfecting.

However, the intuitive moral and ethical voice that drives this author’s thinking makes this assertion feel like a no-brainer.  Does a world of victimization and revenge serve us well?  If not, then coming up with processes that forestall this cycle of decimation and mass-collective suicide would seem to make sense.

Anyhow, simply searching for data about these things is instructive.  Googling “mass murder” OR genocide OR “crimes against humanity” atonement OR “truth and reconciliation” for example elicits slightly more than 400,000 hits.   Merely adding one word to this string, the name of a country—“mass murder” OR genocide OR “crimes against humanity” atonement OR “truth and reconciliation” chile—increases the useable results to almost 2,700,000.

Can one infer a clear interest in such processing of human pain from this?  Not only is such a deduction ineluctable, but one might also add that the more specific the desire to make amends, the more likely we are to find a tremendous sense of need, a longing to achieve closure, to find a sense of justice, to reach a place where acknowledgment, if not compensation, is available in some shape, form, or fashion.

In addition to these specific effects of a broader and deeper understanding of Victor Jara and Chile, this essay definitely follows a rubric in which three components lie at the core of this sort of work.  Every article that has a Spindoctor cast will contain each of these elements.

First is a deep reporting of what history has to tell us.  The past so permeates the present that delving into the records and evidences that yesterday left will always make sense.  Therefore, though many readers might object that they ‘just want the facts’ of the here and now—that, in essence, they ‘just want to know the way to Portland’—essays like this one proffer all manner of unexpected and often unexplicated pieces of the long ago, with some thoughts about how their impact continues this very second, and, assuming that people survive, on into the distant future as well.

The second is an attempt always to show the political economic—legal, military, technological, and other related inputs—realm in which any social eventuality unfolds.  Thus, the C.I.A. background forms a part of this narrative.  The industrial and trade elements of whatever one labels the United States—liberator or empire—also make appearances.  The legal aspects of Chile’s and U.S. courts come to the fore at different points as well.  One might easily continue.

Third comes a weaving together of the social relations that underlie occurrences—matters of class and caste and color and gender and plenty in addition besides.  Certainly, Victor Jara’s sharecropper-parents in juxtaposition to his comrade Salvador’s upper-crust upbringing present definite instances of this sort of examination.  The Weavers of Revolution characters in relation to their bosses and the military cadres who oversaw them after 1973 show another kind of this type of effort.  And one could mention many other instances.

Coming to these conclusions and activating the general approach that this investigation suggests, obviously enough, will not likely yield instant popularity or overnight success.  This kind of work goes against the grain in more ways than a writer would want to list.  Nevertheless, adhering to such systematic rules, and in doing so being able to assert some fairly fundamental pointers to complete this work, does lead to the potential to learn how and why things have evolved as they have.  This is true whether one examines the Ukraine, Chile, or any other place or aspect of social life and human political and economic development.

Such conclusions as result in all these matters can be risky in all sorts of ways.  Whether one focuses on bringing to light what those in charge would just as soon leave in the dark or invests some hopeful alternative with meaning that elites have little or no interest in bringing to fruition, one takes chances that could be dire in doing this work.  Still, inasmuch as inquiring minds do want to know, one may legitimately wonder, “what exactly would be a viable different option?”

AFTERWORD

In a similar vein, everthing in Victor Jara’s statements and actions showed that he understood quite fully what he was risking.  But the alternative so sickened him that he kept confronting the potential that he would end up ‘in the belly of the beast,’ so to say.

In 1969, he wrote, “US imperialism understands very well the magic of communication through music and persists in filling our young people with all sorts of commercial tripe.  With professional expertise they have taken certain measures: first, the commercialization of the so-called ‘protest music’; second, the creation of ‘idols’ of protest music who obey the same rules and suffer from the same constraints as the other idols of the consumer music industry – they last a little while and then disappear.  Meanwhile they are useful in neutralizing the innate spirit of rebellion of young people.  The term ‘protest song’ is no longer valid because it is ambiguous and has been misused.  I prefer the term ‘revolutionary song.’”

No magic formula prohibits a resurgence of the homicidal fury in pursuit of power and lucre that characterized the crimes against humanity that took place as Salvador Allende tried to run a democratic government.  This potential persistence of monstrous depredation remains true despite the lethal effects this would clearly be likely to have on hemispheric comity or even on human survival.  In essence, we can collectively stumble toward mass collective suicide, or we can countenance democratic insistence that people share with each other.

The present situation in Cuba remains the most obvious example of this point.  The wealthiest and most powerful empire in history has seen fit for fifty-four years to threaten and bully an island nation that, when it revolted against and displaced venal and vicious U.S. puppets, was one of the poorest places on Earth, with the lowest life expectancy in the hemisphere.

The plots to assassinate Fidel Castro are beyond dispute.  Government documents admit as much in various forums.  Had he dealt with these attacks in the same liberal manner as typified Salvador Allende’s dealings, he very probably would have ended up as the man whom he admired in Chile did: shot in the back, executed for defending democratic transformation.

Meanwhile, Cuba has advanced to be one of the more resilient economies in the region, and its citizens live nearly as long as—and arguably much more fully than—do U.S. residents.  Yet, the ‘blockade’ against Communism remains in effect.

Fidel Castro, imprisoned in 1953 for seeking to overthrow the plutocratic puppet and killer, Fulgencio Batista, delivered a renowned presentation to the court when he faced twenty-six years behind bars—the title was “History Will Absolve Me.”  Therein, he laid out an argument that was analogous to the economic program of Salvador Allende. “The nation’s future… cannot continue to depend on the selfish interests of a dozen big businessmen nor on the cold calculations of profits that ten or twelve magnates draw up in their air-conditioned offices.  The country cannot continue begging on its knees for miracles from a few golden calves (which) cannot perform miracles of any kind.  The problems of the Republic can be solved only if we (reject) ‘(s)tatesmen’ like Carlos Saladrigas, whose statesmanship consists of preserving the status quo and mouthing phrases like ‘absolute freedom of enterprise,’ ‘guarantees to investment capital,’ and ‘law of supply and demand,’… . Those ministers can chat away in a Fifth Avenue mansion until not even the dust of the bones of those whose problems require immediate solution remains. …A revolutionary government backed by the people and with the respect of the nation, after cleansing the different institutions of all venal and corrupt officials, would proceed immediately to the country’s industrialization, mobilizing all inactive capital, currently estimated at about 1.5 billion pesos, through the National Bank and the Agricultural and Industrial Development Bank, and submitting this mammoth task to experts and men of absolute competence totally removed from all political machines for study, direction, planning, and realization.”

This process of expropriation and transformation actually happened in Cuba.  A nation of fewer than twenty million people, mobilized and overwhelmingly supportive of defending a revolutionary process, withstood the massed power and fanatical hatred of the world’s premier imperial machine.  The lesson that capital learned was stark: under no conditions would they tolerate “another Cuba.”

In fact, much of the violence against human development in the hemisphere—whether under the guise of ‘neighborliness’ or ‘allying for progress’—stems directly from the loathing and fear that capitalist elites still feel toward Cuban socialism.  If recent events in VenezuelaArgentinaHonduras, and Mexico—to name just a few obvious cases—provide any indication, truly barbarous upheaval persists as a preferred means for advancing U.S. corporate and imperial agendas.

Moreover, as the reader will have noticed already, a significant—arguably central—aspect of the U.S. decision to foment mayhem and death in Chile, flowed directly from Allende’s and his collaborators’ seeking deeper ties with Cuba.  Victor Jara revered both Che and Fidel.  Cuban poetry and performance followed Jara’s template, often enough, of “revolutionary music.”  One purpose—and some would argue the primary objective—of the brutal example that Pinochet’s thugs made of Salvador and Victor and thousands of others was to destroy without mercy any hope of emulation of what Cuba had won.

Nevertheless, both in Chile and throughout the region, cultural dynamism reflects the human capacity for resistance and solidarity. Cuba just recently held a conference to increase the reach of local television networks and production, attended by over sixty nations.   Rock, rap, and other ‘folk’ music acts from Mexico to Chile and Argentina have railed against imperial preponderance and powerfully asserted human rights and elimination of neo-colonial patterns of dominance.  Film festivals that advance social democratic messaging are occurring more than occasionally in the various localities of Latin America. Literary awards proudly assert the ‘magic’ of Latino fiction and poetry, even as such Chilean authors as Isabel Allende, the niece of the butchered President, articulate a vision much more in tune with social justice than with the dictates of profiteering that ITT and PepsiCo and their financial and corporate cohorts promulgate now as much as they did in 1973.

An interlocutor like Ms. Allende, however, for all her hope in regard to a socially decent human prospect, does not shrink from describing the hideous horror that imperial imprimatur has yielded.  “The Cuban Revolution was enough; no other socialist project would be tolerated, even if it was the result of a democratic election.  On September 11, 1973, a military coup ended a century of democratic tradition in Chile and started the long reign of General Augusto Pinochet.  Similar coups followed in other countries, and soon half the continent’s population was living in terror.  This was a strategy designed in Washington and imposed upon the Latin American people by the economic and political forces of the right.  In every instance the military acted as mercenaries (for) the privileged groups in power.  Repression was organized on a large scale; torture, concentration campscensorship, imprisonment without trial, and summary executions became common practices.  Thousands of people ‘disappeared,’ masses of exiles and refugees left their countries running for their lives.”

Her uncle, from beyond the grave, also encourages thoughtful participants in social affairs to learn, to speak up, and to act on their own behalf.  He consciously presented his plans for Chilean socialism, which the Chilean people chose, and which the United States confronted with monstrous murder.

Now the question is, “Who is going to use whom?” …(T)he answer (obviously) is the proletariat.  If it wasn’t so I wouldn’t be here.  I am working for Socialism and through Socialism.   As for the bourgeois state, at the present moment, we are seeking to overcome it, to overthrow it.… Our objective is total, scientific, Marxist socialism.  We already had success in creating a democratic, national government that is revolutionary and popular.  That is how socialism begins, not with decrees.

Bruce Springsteen, for the fortieth anniversary of the original, Chilean, 9/11 catastrophe—in which the attacking ‘terrorists’ are easy to identify and find, though they often remain at large, abroad, in the United States and elsewhere—went to Santiago to honor his fallen friend, Victor Jara.  Before a rapt audience that interrupted his Spanish commemoration with frequent applause, he sang Jara’s anthem, “Manifesto.”

Springsteen, struggling to maintain his composure and to remember the Spanish which he had memorized, spoke simply.  “’In 1988 we played for Amnesty International in Mendoza, Argentina, but Chile was in our hearts.  We met many families of desaparecidos, who had pictures of their loved ones.  It was a moment that stays with me forever.  A political musician, Victor Jara, remains a great inspiration.  It’s a gift to be here that I receive with humility.’”

Jara’s words, however, provide the most fitting exit from our assessment of this magnificent human being, who held up the hands from which his killers had just severed his fingers and raised his voice in song.  Of course, he knew what that would yield, but he did not falter.

On September 7th, 1973, an interviewer asked him what ‘love’ meant.  His response is iconic: “Love of my home, my wife and my children./  Love for the earth that helps me live./  Love for education and of work./  Love of others who work for the common good./  Love of justice as the instrument that provides equilibrium for human dignity./  Love of peace in order to enjoy one’s life./  Love of freedom, but not the freedom acquired at the expense of others’ freedom, but rather the freedom of all./  Love of freedom to live and exist, for the existence of my children, in my home, in my town, my city, among neighboring people./  Love for freedom in the environment in which we are required to forge our destiny./  Love of freedom without yokes: nor ours nor foreign.”

Democracy’s Death Without Open Communication

F.C.C. Comments Submitted by Jim Hickey in Regard to Docket Number 14-28—Protecting & Promoting the Open Internet

A popular Government, without popular information, or the means

of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both.

Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their

own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”

So wrote James Madison as he fought for the United States Constitution.

Without doubt, our fourth President’s thinking applies to today’s issue—what should be the nature of the Internet going forward from this moment? The bottom line is simple to state: if we are to survive as a democracy, then more citizen control of media must become the norm, precisely the opposite of what the Federal Communications Commission proposes, with its ‘Fast-Lane’ and ‘Paid Prioritization’ processes more or less sacrosanct.

fcc-seal_rgb_emboss-largeThe rationale for rejecting the F.C.C. approach consist of three elements. The first is historical. The second relates to achieving social and economic justice. The third concerns the political possibilities for democracy versus the increasing likelihood of plutocracy. These represent just a few among many reasons why people should reject the present paradigm and its extension in adopting Internet protocols that guarantee that wealthy corporations own, and dictate access to, what must become more, not less, of a stronghold of people’s control and empowerment, what James Madison termed a sine qua non of popular governance.

Summarizing the historical basis for rejecting ‘Fast Lanes’ and their ilk might include dozens of facts, but the following are definitely critical.

• First, folks should learn about the Radio Act of 1927 and the way that it destroyed community radio in favor of advertiser outlets, meaning that union radio, community radio, people’s radio fell by the wayside, laying the basis for the better part of a century of what journalist Edward Murrow termed “a vast wasteland” in commercial radio and television.

• Second, the establishment of the Federal Radio Commission, which both lay the basis for a ‘revolving door’ between government and media oligopoly and established the bureaucratic underpinnings of what continues to characterize the FCC, is noteworthy.

• Third, the delay in television’s coming to the fore shows how established media empires—in this case in radio—manipulate the media landscape in their favor, technological possibility and social need be damned.

• Fourth, the manner in which the cable television industry evolved, like radio and television, from publicly supported efforts to become completely a realm of finance capital and oligopoly following the Cable Policy Communications Act of 1984 clearly relates to what we are now facing.

• Fifth, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and the dispersal to media monopolies of the architecture and governance of the Internet itself serves in many ways as the proximate cause of what we are confronting in the push to institute a ‘pay-to-play’ philosophy in relation to the web.

One might go on, at great length. However, even this briefing ought to give pause to anyone considering support for an end to ‘Net Neutrality.’

Examining the socioeconomic factors that call for opposing all of the coddling of the corporate elite tantamount in ‘Paid Prioritization’ ought to contain such evidence as

• First, folks might note the profound ignorance that characterizes students and young people in the United States, where the ability to articulate a reasonable understanding of history, culture, and politics is worse than in any other ‘industrialized’ nation.

• Second, observers have no choice but to see the causative relations between poverty, powerlessness, and such social ills as unemployment and a lack of access to media, which would inevitably grow worse in a commercialized, bottom-line orientation to everything on the Internet.

• Third, as literally thousands of other commentators have noted, the impetus to innovate and create would suffer enormously in an environment that made access and development largely dependent on the ability to lay out cash for the right to prioritize efforts.

• Fourth, encouraging monopolistic predominance will ultimately destroy the most substantial engine—some would say the only bright spot outside of prisons and the military—for economic progress that has been apparent over the past twenty-five years or more.

• Fifth, not only will increasing inequality unavoidably attach to the skewed rights and access of ‘paid prioritization’ and the like, but also such patterns will guarantee the enlarging of the pool of the poor and benighted.

Once again, such analysis could easily continue. Once more as well, even this short contextualization provides plenty of basis for insisting that ‘Net Neutrality’ expand instead of end.

Considering just a portion of the political reasoning in favor of greater democratic web-governance rather than less, an observer might list various component points.

• First, citizens ought to take account of the fashion in which monopoly and privatization inherently censor grassroots, unfunded, or underfunded efforts to reach out to others, a censorship-in-fact that guarantees that political conversation is outside the capacity of most individuals and many community networks.

• Second, a consequence of ‘Fast Lanes’ and such will be that, even more so than is already the case, only ‘establishment’ narratives and reportage will reach the surface of the web that almost all its users skim for data and news.

• Third, not only will the resources of information and knowledge be vastly more difficult to obtain, but also the capacity to generate funds for local initiatives and collective efforts to improve community welfare will fall catastrophically.

• Fourth, the ability of ‘whistleblowers’ and ‘watchdogs’ to catch and publicize government and corporate corruption and malfeasance will practically disappear.

• Fifth, in the vein of Madison’s reasoning, those who want to participate cannot help but notice that a slower, less robust, more attenuated access to data and analysis and networking will crush citizen and local initiative to heal and expand democratic governance and the hope of equity that, despite all evidence to the contrary, remain dear to the hearts of many Americans.

As before, citizen analysts could continue, but these simple notions not only give plenty of ammunition for eliminating every attack on Net Neutrality but also offer compelling ideas in favor of making such a policy both stronger and more certain.

Unfortunately for those who might find this reasoning compelling, the political ‘facts on the ground’ remain daunting. Oligopolistic financial and industrial interests dominate both the leadership and the grounds for discussion at the FCC and throughout the halls of government. What really is at stake here is whether citizens of the United States, in the words of James Madison, “intend to be their own governors.”

If they truly want and plan to have such a democratic future, then they will have to start doing a lot more than commenting in forums where the deck is already heavily stacked against them. They are going to have to take steps to return the public’s dominion to what has always begun as, and in all but the theory of monopolist enterprise, must forever stay part of the public domain—whether comprised of print media outlets, broadcasting networks, cable franchises, or Internet governance regulations.

Ways to submit:

1. This link provides instructions, etc

2. This is the direct link to the comments submitting area

If Copying Is Wrong, What’s a Copyright?

An Initial Brief

None other than William Blackstone, storied British jurist and intellectual progenitor of much of the contemporary nexus of ownership and production, had a very astute insight.

“There is nothing which so generally strikes the imagination and engages the affections of mankind, as the right of property; or that sole and despotic dominion which one man claims and exercises over the external things of the world, in total exclusion of the right of any other individual in the universe.”

book sq5In few places in the contemporary arena is ‘Sir William’s’ notion so resonant as in matters of ‘intellectual property’ and copyright.  Unfortunately, this ‘exercise of despotic dominion’ has for some time been having the opposite effect as the proponents of authorial ownership propound—creators are making less, or less than nothing; information monopolies in such areas as textbooks and science preclude public access and the ‘flowering of the arts’ that copyright exists to induce; only very well-heeled ‘owners’ end up availing themselves of either registration or remedies.  These anomalous, or perfectly routine, results effect serious economic, social, and political detriments, which ought to cause a union of writers to discuss matters of so-called intellectual property with open minds and not assume that established practices and protocols are beneficial to working writers.

book sq1The economic nightmare associated with contemporary copyright is also a windfall of course.  I.P. has for some time been the prime source of exports for the oligopolistic media-and-technology establishments.  However, for law students and other such strivers; for high school pupils in less-than-prosperous neighborhoods; for writers and creators who don’t have sixty-five bucks—now only $35 through the new eco portal–to invest every time they write something and thus will never be able to ‘remedy’ infringement; for communities here and elsewhere who desperately need access to information that they can only obtain in a legally ‘monopolized market’ of often exorbitant prices; and for many others, both scribes and citizens, the operation of the current copyright regime is, at best, suboptimal and at worst a disaster. Of course, these policies do encourage the rich to get even richer, but why should a labor union back rules that help big business and harm a substantial proportion, perhaps the vast majority, of everyday wordsmiths?  Inquiring minds might want to consider such queries, even as I and every other union member absolutely commit to fight like fiends for writer-members’ legitimate copyright claims.  The point is, that commitment is not nearly enough.

book sq5The social impact of today’s copyright morass represents a complex and multifaceted mess that largely elicits negative consequences.  One need only consider that a substantial majority of the planet’s teenaged-and-older inhabitants, were a strict enforcement regime in place, would at least technically and potentially be felons under today’s copyright rubric.  Moreover, rather than fostering creative congruence and generosity, copyright now operates to cause everyone to hide ingenuity away, to treat the potential for cooperation and sharing with disdain or suspicion.  In a networked world that absolutely requires joint, multidisciplinary, cross-border, intergenerational, multicultural ventures to solve a host of hideous problems, fostering a psychology of “it’s-mine-and-you-can’t-have-it” is likely suicidal.

The political outcome of the legal thicket in place today is equally insidious.  An invasive police apparatus has to be legitimate if ‘sacred property-rights’ are at stake.  The further polarization between ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ means that electoral democracy becomes a charade and participatory democracy becomes either a crime or an impossibility.  At the very least, the plutocrats’ lobbyists write the legal caveats that further ratchet up the rapine of the present process; ordinary citizens become cynical, ripe for the latest divide-and-conquer scheme or, perish the thought, ready to find some ‘strong man’ who will always end up being a straw-man and a puppet for the forces that originated and gained from the system as it is.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhat should be the National Writers Union stance in such a pass?  One answer would be to foster a lot more dialog, call for the equivalent of a ‘Writers Constitutional Convention on Copyright,’ and generally to dig deep into the archives of government and the annals of history to facilitate a nuanced and rich comprehension of these matters.  Amelia Andersdotter, a member of Sweden’s Piratpartiet and member of the European Parliament, summed up simply when she said, “Copyleft and Copymore Instead of Copyright and Copyless.”  Her analysis is at least persuasive, deserving a lot more attention at all levels of the union than it is currently receiving.

The current legislation is adapted for, and even wants to promote, scarcity of information.  You won’t find users of information services or indeed any citizens at all who have a relationship with information corresponding to a scarcity model.  When thinking carefully about it, you will probably find that having such users and citizens isn’t even desirable. So our information management laws need to change.  Essentially, legislators and lobbyists all over the world will have to abandon the idea that restricting access to individual pieces of, or copies of pieces of, information is good.  It’s not.  We need laws that encourage abundance of each piece of information, and make use of the wealth derived from the fast spread of those pieces.

MORE TO FOLLOW

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A Bibliographic Promenade

I am a public intellectual.  One thing I might do at this point would entail fleshing out and deepening the simple, and inevitably oversimplified, thesis in the first five paragraphs.  However, I’m going to follow another approach.

What follows in a sense does imply argumentation.  But it will show up in the form of a tiny slice—a small fraction of a small fraction—of the data and analysis that others have been providing.  It will be akin to a literature review or a bibliographic essay, two types of writing that I’ve done in one way or another for lo these forty-odd years.

ResearchFolks may well trust that I am all too capable of seeking to be exhaustive in such efforts as this.  In these posts, on the other hand, I will point out again and again how initial and partial and exploratory are the links and information that I proffer.  One critical piece of taking action is to make a start from which more powerful subsequent work can flow.

What will consciously not be here, at least for the most part, are mainstream views, corporate propaganda passing itself off as ‘expertise,’ and other defenses of or attempts to extend further the present-day standard operating procedure.  Working people, unions, and grassroots communicators need such repetition of the fatuous ‘received wisdom’ about as much as we need tiny little holes drilled into our skulls.

What would I like readers to do?  Ideally, they’d find the reasoning, data, and linkages that show up here useful.  More importantly, they’d jump in and proffer correction, disagreement, amplification, or any “special knowledge” that they have about this topic area.  Anyone who e-mails me useful, pertinent links and ideas will generally see their input appear in edits of these main threads.  Most importantly, though, visitors here would also willingly help to facilitate and participate in ongoing dialog that leads to powerful grassroots action about these matters.

solidarity handInstead of complaining and waiting vainly for others to rescue the world from extremely troubled times, we have to take part in learning and struggle among ourselves to figure out as clearly as possible what has happened to cause the present pass.  Then, should survival and a decent existence and the prospect of grandchildren-or-something-similar appeal to us, we have no choice but to put what we’ve learned into action, somehow or other insisting that we, the people, are in fact the ones who are in charge.

TIMELINES

educationNeither the future nor the present can cause the past.  A first step in orienting ourselves, therefore, has to be a general awareness of the order in which things have taken place.  Here are some gateways to timelines on the web, followed by very rudimentary benchmarks for readers to note in any circumstance that involves a copyright discussion.

VARIOUS HISTORICAL ASSESSMENTS

book sq6Plenty of legal analysis is in the marketplace that nods in the direction of history.  Recently, however, an upsurge of critical examination has happened.  A teeny bit of this shows up here.

  • from digital-rights.net — a very scholarly but also very thought-provoking and outside-the-box monograph, freely downloadable, from Open Book Publishers
  • from commlawreview.org — a law review article that considers disconnects in current practice from a historical and constitutionalist perspective
  • from utexas.edu — the historical chapter from R.V. Bettig’s classic on the political economy of copyright
  • from archive.org — a 1904 book from the American Publisher’s Copyright League of legal cases
  • from amazon.com — a classic in the young field of copyright history
  • from openedition.org — chapter fifteen of Privilege & Property, by William St. Claire and important enough to list in its own right
  • from princeton.edu — a Princeton professor’s factual and richly detailed examination of media, politics, and social relations, a volume essential to include in any such discussion as this

EXPLORATIONS IN THE POLITICAL ECONOMY OF COPYRIGHT

no trespassing signAll too often, those to whom the present occurs like a load of bricks falling from the sky fail to consider issues such as this.  Here’s some help, in that regard.  At some point, of course, we should all be talking about what we mean by, and what we know about, the parameters of political economy, without which the discipline of economics is arguably fatuous fantasy.

  • from tandfonline.com — one link to Ronald Bettig’s central study, Critical Perspectives on the History & Philosophy of Copyright
  • from law.ed.ac.uk – Christopher May’s brief overview, bracing and radical
  • from history.upenn.edu — another brief by William St. Claire, which provided key contextualization of many issues of knowledge, power, and law
  • from papers.ssrn.com — an exploration of “Copyright’s Hidden Assumption,” that a lengthy inheritable property interest makes sense instead of being an absurdity, except for its profitability
  • from publicknowledge.org — a “withdrawn” GOP White Paper attacking the party’s corporate masters
  • from arifyildirim.com — a Media, Culture, & Society article with this many interesting points to make.

COPYRIGHT & SOCIAL RELATIONS

typewriter3Here, where the terrain is especially complicated and difficult to tease out without immersing ourselves, just a couple of links should suffice.  This matter—concerning all manner of culture, class, color, and conflict pointers, would be well worth a colloquium and more, however.

PiratePublCRITICAL FAILINGS OF THE STANDARD REGIME

Even the most hallowed experts are often enough decrying the SOP and bemoaning ‘unintended consequences’ that quite logically are part of the purpose of the system.  In any event, a few such old hands’ critiques emerge below.

solidarity of labour‘COPYLEFT,’ A RESURGENCE OF THE COMMONS, AND OTHER ALLIES

Plenty of help is available to our union to assist in fomenting positive change, to foster creative and empowering alliances, to develop strategic programming and action.  But we will probably never reach most of these potential ‘fellow travelers’ unless we’re willing to climb out of the copyright hole that we’re presently occupying.

  • journals.uic.edu — an incisive critique of present practice, radical and Marxist to boot
  • cscc.scu.edu — movement overview and analysis of its likely benefits to the likes of union writers
  • from gnu.org — technical writers’ and programmers’ solidarity with copyleft perspectives
  • from ssrn.com – a neutral, thorough overview of the processes in these arenas

media 24CRITICAL LEGAL STUDIES, MARXISM, SOCIAL DEMOCRACY

A variety of ideological methods contain useful ways of thinking as we writers struggle to make sense of things and find ways to reformulate and transform this morass of pain that is the way things happen now

  • from law.unh.edu — an overview and analysis of Critical Legal Studies as a ‘game-changer’ in helping to create democratic information and distribution systems and networks
  • from cardozo.yu.edu — a forum on politicization, information law, and CLS
  • from digitalcommons.law.byu.edu — subtitled “Copyright, Consecration, & Control,” this article seeks to deconstruct intellectual property regimes in a reconstitutive way
  • from wwwords.co.uk — a Marxist assessment of often negative impacts on the possibilities for education under the current rubric
  • from lexisnexis.com — a philosophical and legal Marxist assessment of the ubiquity of self-dealing among standard legal-economics assessments
  • from marxists.org — a plethora of possibly useful and indubitably thought-provoking assessments of various aspects of culture and cultural production

donkey labourPHILOSOPHY, DEEP-ANALYSIS, & EXPERTS WHO ARE HONEST BROKERS

Useful materials are present that grapple with our problems in innovative and unanticipated ways.  We just have to do some downloading, find ways to lay our hands on e-readers that make engagement palatable, and start reading

    • from virginia.edu — a precis of a McLuhan work that is widely accessible elsewhere
    • from sciencepolicy.colorado.edu – an excerpt from Lewis Mumford’s Technics & Civilization, which readers can also find in its entirety in various spots
    • from kropfpolisci.com – a recent Richard McChesney analysis; his Rich Media, Poor Democracy remains a must-read
    • from cnqzu.com – a potent explication of media and political hegemony, in which the author makes this chilling point:

“Together, these points suggest a scenario in which elites are simultaneously the main sources, main targets and some of the most influenced recipients of news. If this is so, it could be concluded that a major function of the news media is not merely to reflect political differences but to act as a communication channel for the regular conflicts, negotiations and decision-making that take place between different elite groups. This is also to the exclusion of the mass of consumer-citizens. Decisions, which involve such things as the development of institutional policies, corporate strategies, legislation, budgets, investment decisions, regulatory regimes and power structures, take place in communication networks in which the mass of consumer-citizens can be no more than ill-informed spectators.”

  • from naima.staff.ub.ac.id — one of Doug Kellner’s many piercing investigations of media and society, in which the reader sees clearly how basic assumptions are so often wrong and pathways to liberation are opposite from the standard prescription

ESTABLISHED INSTITUTIONAL BROKERS NOT ENTIRELY DISINGENUOUS

Wall-StreetBy there nature, established institutions—major foundations, universities, international or national organizations—cannot help but make deep bows to the ‘gatekeepers’ whom we want, openly and forthrightly, to displace from their places opening and closing ingress and egress to the common citizens whom they view as ignorant fools.  Nevertheless, a wealth of information—some of it useful, a small bit of it truly profound—emanates from such locations.

  • from cardozoaelj.com — a place to start were one to hope to defend supposed free-markets, precisely because of the incisive and open critiques that so often show up here
  • from www.amazon.com — Christopher May’s monograph on the current international regime, with plenty of critique built in, available for free from WIPO as an e-book
  • from www.wipo.int – one of the plus-or-minus ten WIPO Journals that is freely available, all full of data and analysis from many points of view

A FEW FINAL THOUGHTS

wnacting worker repression guy

The best that a person can hope for, in some senses anyway, is that he or she has interesting problems to solve.  A final note to ponder is how we all too often merely shrug and give in to whatever is prevailing in the current regime.  Johan Soderberg makes this point well, in a way that might provide both closure and encouragement to continue digging and fighting.

“Mainstream writings and official commissions treat intellectual property as exclusively a financial and legal technicality; they operate within the consensus that intellectual property is an indisputable entity.  Those writers that do recognize intellectual property as a contested terrain also write to campaign against it.  Approaches in the latter camp originate either from the experiences of hackers or from academic Marxist analysis, and the two branches are equally detached from each other.”

Before we move forward, in other words, we’ve got to talk about these things more thoroughly.

Media, Mergers, Capitalism, and Popular Democracy:

Or, Why AOL Is, Apparently, Perfect for Huff-Po and, Decidedly, Horrible for Majority Rule

UNIT TWO: What in the World Is AOL Anyway?

Chapter One–The Scientific, Technical, and Social Roots of Online America

Herein, readers will continue the mediated journey through modern media that began with a historical and contextual background a couple of weeks ago. From the general overview that initiated the series, folks will today start examining the ‘Origins of the Internet’ from the carnage of WWII and its evolution, from the dawn of the Cold War to the 1980’s.

INTRODUCTORY MATERIAL

Today’s text introduces Unit Two of this five Unit series. This initial chapter of Unit Two leads on to three sibling sections that will, in as thorough and incisive a fashion as this humble correspondent can manage in a relatively short space, explicate what constitutes the corporate entity that has ‘branded’ itself AOL and considers itself the epitome of America in its online guise.
Where we left off, big-business media was mushrooming up from the cow paddies of routine politics. How exactly did America Online, as of now not yet done with its third decade, emanate from the historical and political economic background of modern times? The purpose of this quite lengthy section is to manage a tale-of-the-tape that offers an intelligible, and relatively complete, response to this inquiry.
Like so much of what citizens now consider this virtual age, the roots of AOL lie in the way that the conflagrations of the 1940’s responded to the deflationary death spiral of the 1930’s. In 1945, at the dawn of a new epoch that shined with a nuclear glow, as the Cold War heated up, and nearly everyone still breathing wondered where to bury a hundred million or so corpses and how to avoid the next tally from being higher still, the captains of capital looked forward to an unstoppable ‘thousand-year-reich’ of commodities and markets that only lasted a “glorious thirty” years, with everything antithetical hidden behind ‘iron curtains’ of one sort or another.
These leading lights of the ruling class foresaw an age of ubiquitous convergence. Communication and computation and observation would yield, in every sector of the economy, times when markets would work as their proponents had always promised, even as they continued to seek the institutional succor of government instead. This new age would not eschew governance so much as it would make the public sphere subservient to corporate, which is to say commercial and imperial, mastery.

 

 

ANTEDILUVIAN BEGINNINGS ON THE ‘ENDLESS FRONTIER’

The observer might not easily see the connection between AOL and a project named the ‘Manhattan Engineering District,’ but Vannevar Bush joins the two like a rivet connects discrete plates on an aircraft carrier. Not only did this MIT wizard unite the industrial and financial powers-that-be behind publicly-funded science, but he also insisted on the durability of this formula after the war. In the event, he also succeeded in promulgating institutionalized funding and management models that followed corporate guidelines and priorities.

In essence, Bush is the technical and intellectual father of the Military Industrial Complex. His Science: the Endless Frontier links markets and profits and prosperity and power-politics and empire and innovation as a set of relationships that nations sunder at their peril.
What is more, he both, on the one hand, very precisely conceived of the world wide web and many of its technical attributes as an aspect of this industrial militarization of politics and, on the other hand, proffered a guidebook–almost a recipe–for their initiation and growth. In “As We May Think,” also written just after WWII ended, Bush envisions personal computing, Wikipedia, hands-free 24/7 virtual connectivity, and a swirling constant interchange that many feel is still a possibility if the World Wide Web survives a corporate takeover.

Moreover, this meme still resonates powerfully. The term, ‘meme,’ is itself something like Bush’s name for his concept.

“Consider a future device for individual use, which is a sort of mechanized private file and library. It needs a name, and to coin one at random, ‘memex’ will do. A memex is a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory.” No wonder entire symposia keep flowering that orbit around Bush’s now long-ago article in Atlantic Magazine.
Equally applicable as connective tissue between such trendy(or declasse, as the case may be) eventualities as today’s AOL and the inception of the war machine is the fashion in which Bush’s ideas have become almost biblical in their expression of the current canon. The American empire, American well-being, the very essence of the American way, in such thinking, are inseparable from the uninterrupted perpetuation of an ever expanding plethora of the hot new way, an endless frontier of endless frontiers.
Needless to say, whether one appreciates the artfulness with which its principals have undertaken the task, America Online–with former Secretary of Defense and general corporate booster Alexander Haig leading the charge to invest–has depicted itself as the quick-and-easy path to such innovativeness. When that way of conceiving things began to seem positively fuddy-duddy, AOL, driven by the relentless necessity of monetizing something, cast around for ways of reinventing itself as ‘trendier-than-thou.’
That such an evolution, in a society under the sway of finance and industrial monopoly, inherently revolves around opportunistic cash-outs and market wedges, not to mention a tendency to sweep up the competition and the newest confabulation simultaneously, should come as no surprise. Indeed, all manner of analysis recognizes such ineluctable expressions of capital’s conceptualization of virtuality.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Chair in Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Washington very recently confirmed this contemporary relevance of dear Uncle Vannevar. In a brief essay entitled, “An Endless Frontier Postponed,” the author warns that a lack of consciousness about the union of academia, capital, and government makes possible an ideological commitment to sundering this troika, which in this SOP POV threatens any hope of continuing political-economic predominance by the United States.
And indeed, this is now one popular trope. A much less common thread is that the collective financing and support for the internet means that it should actually operate according to common goals, and under democratic guidance. This is what Michael Zweig means when he suggests that “being charitable to the poor” means far less that “arranging that they have power, one obvious element of which is media potency. Whatever the unfolding of this dialectic, that the taxes of working people funded the creation and evolution of the World-Wide-Web is incontrovertible fact.

MA-&-PA KETTLE FINANCE THE INFRASTRUCTURE AND SUPERSTRUCTURE AND PROTOCOLS OF THE WORLD-WIDE-WEB

Multiple intersecting timelines play key parts in the manifestation of virtual life that so characterizes the present pass that many people can no longer conceive an ‘unwired’ existence. Computers, military and academic laboratories, telecommunications, printing and publishing all have an arc of expansion that, as one, has yielded the montage of interfaces and devices and distracted human beings who meander over the earth today, both actually and electronically, both as flesh-and-blood and as avatars.
The recognition of this interrelated interdependence is critical to any rational understanding of a phenomenon such as AOL, or its swallowing of Arianna Huffington’s self-styled bastion of progressivism. Neither could have been more than a foggy, opiated pipe-dream but for the work performed on the public dime, as it were. NASA, the nuclear-weapons-lab complexes, major research universities, and the corporate vanguard, without exception either were direct chain-of-command elements of the State, or, in any event, they would have withered and blown-away without government dollars.
Thus, MIT researchers came up with the first video game while doing missile and other military research; Bell labs invented push-button telecommunication techniques in part as a result of decades of walkie-talkie military deals; the Advanced Research Project Agency(ARPA) was a Department of Defense response to Sputnik–soon yielding the first generation WWW through ARPANet; under the purview of government contracts, the American Standard Code for Information Interchange(ASCII) grew out of Bell labs and American National Standards Institute efforts–and still underlies the basic coding on which AOL, et al. depend to this day.
Almost without exception, the nodes and methods of the web, of being an American online, as it were, only happened because tax-dollars financed them. Even in such ‘venture-capital’-worshipping materials as Piero Scaruffi’s A History of Silicon Valley, again and and again and again, over and over, “almost without exception,” the hand of the government appears as central to this amazing transformation toward virtuality that typifies life today.

Immediately prior to the assumption of an institutional form more or less recognizable as the direct predecessor of America Online, additional important developments took place on the nascent internet, as of 1972 controlled by DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The first e-mail, for instance, sallied forth in 1971 as a result of one investigator’s efforts that sought to make military research communication more efficient. Though it did not modulate in chipper tones, “You’ve got mail!,” that cheery quip emanated from State-funded efforts.
Shortly thereafter, big improvements in FORTRAN, the machine language developed for military and scientific purposes, happened, followed shortly by Bell Lab’s first issuing of the much more intuitive C-programming language. Soon afterward, Xerox’s DOD-funded Palo Alto Research Center, on its way to inventing “the office of the future,” created the Ethernet, many standards of which continue in force to the present moment.
Throughout the mid 1970’s, with the formation of Apple Computer and Microsoft and more, many of AOL’s predecessors availed themselves of the possibilities for private gain from public investment, even as the general economy reeled from one stagflationary whipping post to another. In 1978, the first Bulletin Board System came into being; the BBS model was important in various early attempts to cash-in on what social support for computing and networks had created, not to mention underpinning AOL’s ultimate success.
As with the rest, these BBS outgrowths trace their roots back to public inputs. File serving, downloading, the very protocols that allow a network to engage and remain operational, are the result of socialized inputs and relationships.

“Due to its prominent role, the history of TCP is impossible to describe without going back to the early days of the protocol suite as a whole. In the early 1970s, what we know of today as the global Internet was a small research internetwork called the ARPAnet, named for the United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA or ARPA). This network used a technology called the Network Control Protocol (NCP) to allow hosts to connect to each other. …Due to limitations in the NCP, development began on a new protocol that would be better suited to a growing internetwork. … called the Internet Transmission Control Program (TCP). Like its predecessor NCP, TCP was responsible for basically everything that was needed to allow applications to run on an internetwork.”

William Gibson

Thirty-odd years of conceptual, practical, and often secret trial-and-error research, uniformly either conducted by or financed through U.S. dollars, laid the foundations for our ‘virtual’ world. In the years that witnessed the emergence of a company that would soon become America Online, this “information age” was just beginning. ‘Cyberspace’ and ‘virtual reality’ were merely phrases not yet on the lips of novelist William Gibson.

Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were just launching their inaugural efforts. They had both availed themselves of these decades of effort ‘on the government dime,’ so to speak. William Von Meister was interested in music and video games and had a way with words and money; he needed a bigger playing field, however, if his little operations were to become behemonth.

A CONCLUDING TRANSITION

In other words, America Online did not emerge randomly. Nor did it occur as a result of individuals, rugged or colorful or otherwise, working separately and ‘individually.’ Nor was it in any way a primary result of ‘natural’ bourgeois inventiveness.
On the contrary, the growth stemmed from fields prepared by social stewards, using common treasure. The concrete components uniformly resulted from or depended on government-financed research. Every single stop on the ultimate information highway was only possible because of collective efforts that invoked federal financing.
John Hopkins’ Stuart Leslie, in his article, “The Biggest ‘Angel’ of Them All: the Military in the Making of Silicon Valley,” makes this argument dispositively. The ‘marketplace’ is no freer than a Soviet Five Year Plan, or, at the least, it is ‘freer’ in a different way; moreover, we might imagine other ways to ‘free’ things up.
This can lead to some interesting conclusions. They are factual, no more a ‘matter of opinion’ than the determination that United States Treasury dollars are necessary to run the Department of Defense.
Here’s one such deduction. Not only would the astounding wealth ‘created’ by the ‘free-market’-touting boosters at AOL have been inconceivable without social backing of the most extensive sort, but also, the smaller but still substantial sums that now line Arianna Huffington’s purses are only available for her accountants to count because of the taxes of everyday Americans, such as the bloggers on the site who will never make a dime from the deal.

What We Need Now

WHAT HUMANKIND NEEDS NOW IS MUCH MORE THAN ‘LOVE, SWEET LOVE’

Anyone who has paid much attention to the world of late realizes that dire deeds are abundant, and precipitous disasters loom. More so than at any time since the 1930’s and ’40’s, the basic viability of human existence is in question. And, as crisis engenders emergency, and catastrophe leads to carnage, what we are to do about all of this ubiquitous calamity is, to say the least, far from obvious.

Part of the problem attendant on figuring what action to take lies in characterizing the central issues before us. A plethora of topics might serve as candidates. General concerns, like jobs and energy and environment, are, minimally, apt problems to consider; specific eventualities: such as the Fukushima meltdowns, the overlapping conflicts in Southwest Asia, murderous outrage in the vein of what happened to both Trayvon Martin and Troy Davis also rank high on many people’s tallies of key difficulties to ponder. Obviously, these sorts of lists could keep going, if not ad infinitum, then into the scores or hundreds of entries.

However, this humble correspondent conceives of the heart of the matter differently. Both pragmatism–in the sense of what will make a difference–and duty–in the sense of what we owe to ourselves and each other–guide this estimate. A question, complicated as are all the interlinked items to think about, serves to introduce this core conjunction. To wit:

How are the common citizens of the world to gain, first, the knowledge and capacity, and, then, the organizational potency, to assume responsibility and command in transforming the current crisis for the benefit of themselves and their immediate and extended families, the vast majority of benighted human cousins who occupy the planet?

Now, this humble correspondent can almost hear the likely initial response to this interrogatory. “Do what?!?”

Before proceeding to explicate and justify the query, though, let’s just state an underlying assertion clearly. This question is more important than any other item on folks’ agendas.

  • It’s more important than who wins this or any other election.
  • It’s more important than ‘Peak Oil.’
  • It’s more important than stopping any of the many wars now afflicting us.
  • It’s more important than any court decision or legal or policy matter.
  • It’s more important than ending brutality against women or any other group.
  • It’s more important than the economy.
  • It’s more important than the incarceration of tens of millions of people.
  • Whatever the issue, it’s more important.

Again, before dealing with what the above question implies, this premise of preeminence requires a brief defense.

The basic rationale is simple to state. Only an organized and empowered citizenry can have even the slightest hope of addressing successfully any of the above points, let alone trying to tackle all of them, every one of which is in fact critically important. Thus, before we worry about any seemingly most crucial group of predicaments: discrimination or bigotry; nuclear or conventional weapons proliferation; the ‘War-on-Drugs’ or the Prison-Industrial-Complex and its deleterious impacts on people; the Citizens United ruling or other forms of electoral fraud or theft or overreaching; anything–we must first address the dilemma of a disempowered, disorganized, inchoate populace.

Of course, this reasoning in turn presupposes that democracy is a valid goal in its own right, either thinking along the lines of Churchill that “everything else is so much worse” or along the lines of Jefferson that majority-rule is the necessary state of civilized human existence. However, most readers would be willing to stipulate this assumption. Even those who in their hearts despise turning over rule to the ‘unwashed masses’ presently find politic a nod in the direction of democracy.

Therefore, we can now turn to the original inquiry, the elucidation of which is the primary purpose of this essay. The conclusion to which this discussion leads is substantial in its scope and thrust. Basically, the situation comes down to this: without grassroots organization and empowerment, homo sapiens are either ‘toast’ or facing a future of concentration camps and mass slaughter. Such stakes ought to make anyone want to achieve an understanding of the ‘rules of the game,’ as it were. Here goes.

AN EASY DELINEATION OF “WHAT”

The basic meaning of the complex interrogative sentence that is at the heart of this essay is straightforward. That’s merely a matter of breaking down phrases and clauses that currently conjoin into their own more simple sentences. Shifting from the interrogative to the declarative mode brings the overall implications to light.

Here’s a take on such a ‘translation.’ ‘The world’s average working people need to unite, not remain isolated and divided. Certain sorts of knowledge–about political economy, history, and social relations particularly–is currently missing, and yet essential to this consciousness that supports unity. Similarly, certain capacities–often technical, scientific, or logistical in nature–are also absent but critical. An organizational combination of this consciousness and ability must occur, permitting networks of wage-earners to form. Insodoing, these networks need to contend for the power to transform the world and take control of the political and economic spheres. This transformation must happen for the benefit of workers: “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” The numerical preponderance of modern proletarians ought to make this whole process plausible.’

And voila, the importance of the inquiry should be clear. The rationale for propounding such meanings is less simple. However, equally clear goals and objectives, part of a ‘strategy for human survival,’ do underpin the thinking contained in the question.

WHY “THE COMMON CITIZENS OF THE WORLD”?

The original inquiry starts out by stressing one sector, albeit far and away the largest, portion of humanity. Often enough, politicos and marketers hypocritically underscore their schemes in like fashion; and just as frequently, romantic and idealistic folks allude to ‘salt-of-the-earth’ needs and involvement.

Here, however, the basis for this emphasis is purely pragmatic. Since money and its numerous mandates cannot continue in charge if the bullet-point list above moves along a ‘progressive’ or socially democratic route, the present ruling class will never voluntarily incline itself in such a direction.

Similarly, the powers-that-be cannot maintain their sway if democracy prevails in action. The point fits in with a popular idiom of ‘protest’ for the past half century of so. “The people, united, will never be defeated,” or “El pueblo, unido, jamas sera vencido.” Just as these notions resonate with vitality, so too the obverse ought to make sense. “Divided, the people must fail,” or “dividido, el pueblo fallará.”

WHY FOCUS NEXT ON “KNOWLEDGE & CAPACITY”?

Action seems so essential that taking the time to learn may appear to embrace a ‘paralysis of analysis.’ However, without key knowledge sets and skills, all action will, as if by some kind of black magic, end up with things just as they were before we acted.

In relation especially to history, political economy, and social relations, this situation of ignorance is so patently ludicrous as to be truly hilarious, as if we were to get a call in the middle of night from a friend: “How do I get to Portland?” comes crackling over the airwaves.

Just awakened, we puzzle at this. Perhaps we clear our throats and scratch our heads. Perhaps we check to see where the call is coming from; and then we ask the obvious. “Well where are you?”

“I don’t know,” comes the jovially ignorant retort, “but I’d like you to give me good directions anyway.” Golly, but if we don’t know where we are, how in hell are we going to get where we want to go? And in life, ‘knowing where one is’ means knowing the past that has produced the present. It means knowing about the fraud of ‘free markets’ and the lie of ‘laissez faire.’ It means understanding the class nature of society. This consciousness, or ‘knowledge and capacity,’ thus lie close to the core of finding ways to accomplish social, political or economic shifts.

WHY HIGHLIGHT “ORGANIZATIONAL POTENCY”?

Modern human culture is awash in ‘groups’ of different sorts. So why we must concern ourselves with yet another manifestation of such collective reasoning and activity?

Two points are apt here. The first concerns the vaunted ‘individualism‘ that is perhaps the most forceful trope of modern American indoctrination. Simply put, none of us are ‘individuals’ in the self-made, self-sufficient sense that such propaganda propagates. Starting with what Ma and Pa do to get us launched, and continuing through caregivers and collaborators from cradle to grave, each of us is a cooperative enterprise. This humble correspondent will soon write more about this, so for now, this much will just have to do.

The second feature to ponder at this juncture is how decisive the overall orientation is, to a conscious grassroots empowerment undertaking. Given that such an interpretation has any persuasive resonance whatsoever, then joining forces, absolutely impossible without some systematic cohesiveness, has to appear not only sensible but also imperative.

WHY MUST PEOPLE THEMSELVES TAKE “RESPONSIBILITY & COMMAND”?

Almost the entire planet depends on representation of some sort. Why this has become less and less sufficient has at least a pair of aspects, one resulting from a push, the other from a pull.

The root of what pushes us toward direct involvement is both that our representatives have so consistently failed us and that mechanisms of accountability are at best cumbersome. This humble correspondent will write next about the origins and purposes of the ‘American-as-apple-pie’ two party system to develop this contention more fully.

What pulls us, on the other hand, is that the techniques and technologies that permit participation have reached such a high point of development. The World Wide Web and the pervasive ‘self-improvement’ industry are just two clear examples of this material basis for people to take charge and act in their own behalf.

WHY SAY “TRANSFORM THE CURRENT CRISIS”?

“Change we can believe in” hasn’t worked out too well so far. The notion of change itself is slippery, and this humble correspondent would join those who doubt the potential that any fundamental ‘change’ in anything can ever take place.

Again, this is a deep subject, and we haven’t time or desire or necessity, as it were, of digging a well just now. However, thinking in both evolutionary and revolutionary developments–in other words in terms of both reformist and radical approaches to political practice, the noun ‘transformation’ perfects what people must engage in if they are to accomplish their own and their progeny’s salvation, so to speak.

WHY “FOR THE BENEFIT OF THEMSELVES” & THEIR KIN?

In the hideous pass that presently prevails, nepotism and self-centeredness seem such an integral part of things that all thoughts of ‘self-interest’ or selfishness may seem suspect. A single argument is enough, for present aims, to justify this element of the original question.

That simple point is that all working people face substantially similar–very often exactly the same–sinister sets of traps and tricks and machinations of the moneyed set that any effort to support ‘themselves and their kin’ inevitably redounds to the benefits of their cousins similarly situated. Only such idiocies as nationalism, or other forms of chauvinism, stand in the way of this cognizance.

WHY EMPHASIZE A “BENIGHTED…VAST MAJORITY”?

Life expectancy is higher; more children survive infancy; primary education is accessible to 80-90% of humanity; most other indexes of quality-of-life suggest that conceptions of any actual ‘good old days’ are a fraud. Yet, at the same time, one may very rationally speak of the overwhelming majority of people–certainly more than three quarters and quite possibly upwards of nine out of ten–as oppressively deprived.

The deprivation is a matter of comparative quality rather than absolute quantity. When one examines most of the same indexes of quality-of-life, which establish the quantitative superiority of present-day expectations, vis-a-vis any period in the past, one discovers qualitative differences that range from a breach to a gulf. Such differences separate from almost any working person those whose wealth and income place them in the top one percent of property owners and earners.

Health, education, stability of social relationships, political participation, satisfaction with self and society, and more are arguably as far apart, and occasionally much further apart, than the same sorts of differences during the Roman, medieval, or Renaissance periods, for instance. Furthermore, one may cogently posit that only through disempowering those who rule and empowering those who follow them can any sizeable alteration happen to make the distribution of ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’ more equable, equitable, and balanced.

SUMMATIVE STATEMENTS & JUST A BIT MORE

Quite probably, this introductory set of ideas barely advances us more than a single step. However, that step, however modest it is as a solitary stride, may be an essential one. In similar vein, a bit of salt added to a stew is only one ingredient, and yet the final product may taste markedly different lacking that addition. Or, as in a case when experimenters might choose to leave out important initial components of a complex mechanism, the entire process of the mechanism’s operation could fail as a result.

No doubt, a mere possibility in theory cannot prove any specific case. On the other hand, one may readily imagine intuitive, conceptual, and empirical assessments which would throw a favorable light on the idea that enabling the presently less-than-fully enfranchised is a key prerequisite of political reform, social progress, or even human survival.

If a viewpoint like that which shows up here has even a small degree of plausibility, it must be worthwhile to investigate it, at least so long as humanity’s potential to thrive makes any difference. For certain, a century or more of ‘reform’ has yielded little fundamental shifting of core relations and dynamics among life’s actors. For certain, ‘common folk’ have had little or no chance to play leading roles as one set of failed ‘improvements’ has replaced another. For certain, huge dilemmas confront our kind on our home planet.

Under circumstances such as these, capacitating the ‘beneficiaries’ of these seemingly never-ending reformist tendencies–activating the passive so that they become participants in shaping and implementing policy–could easily be a key component in successfully negotiating transformation. An approach of this sort would be a ‘no-brainer’ but for the powerful constituencies arrayed against it. At absolute minimum, a playful attitude of exploring the possible would dictate the operationalization of grassroots facilitation and participation.

In any case, such is the proposition that this humble correspondent promulgates. Its primary expression in this narrative is in the form of a rambling question. To repeat, then: How are the common citizens of the world to gain, first, the knowledge and capacity, and, then, the organizational potency, to assume responsibility and command in transforming the current crisis for the benefit of themselves and their immediate and extended families, the vast majority of benighted human cousins who occupy the planet? Inquiring minds would like to know.

A Democratic, Grassroots Media Requires Media Analysis: Mediated Communication, Media Literacy, Missing Links:

PREFACE

This humble correspondent has just had the opportunity to make a Power-Point presentation to a hundred or so ‘progressive’ senior citizens.  The topic, Understanding the Origins of the Internet, and the questions that it engendered, led to a recognition that folks generally might benefit from some orientation in thinking about the problems and prospects of creating a democratic media from the ground up.

“How can we ferret out what is true and accurate?” 

“How can we overrule such powerful institutions as the Supreme Court?” 

“If both parties offer nothing but doom and gloom for us, what are we supposed to do?”

These were a few of the questions posed by audience members.

The words of Thomas Jefferson resonate two hundred years later in response to these inquiries.

”I know no safe depositary of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.”

Even old James Madison, whose Federalist Paper Number Ten envisioned the two-party system as a way of keeping majority-rule at bay, proffers inspiring thoughts in this regard.  ”A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”

The deduction to which these ideas logically lead is that we have no choice but to educate ourselves nor any choice but to follow up our learning with action that is ‘of the people, by the people, and for the people.’  Paulo Freire sums up, generally, the tasks at hand.  “Human existence cannot be silent, nor can it be nourished by false words, but only by true words, with which men transform the world.”

He goes on:

“To exist, humanly, is to name the world, to change it.  Once named, the world, in its turn, reappears to the namers as a different problem that requires of them a new naming.  Men are not built in silence, but in word, in work, in action-reflection.

The ‘words and work and action-reflection’ that common citizens need is not happening.  One reason for this is that even the most ‘progressive’ mediated communication is failing to engage people in such a way as to impart actual knowledge, which is only possible to obtain through historical, political-economic, and social assessments that begin at the beginning, deal with paradox-and-complexity, and follow the money.

The natural result of such real, ‘popular education’ can only be radical, meaningful critiques that in turn facilitate something like a ‘revolt of the commons.’  This essay begins a process of examining the failings of so-called ‘liberal media.’  A year-and-a-half ago, a purported champion of people’s reporting joined forces with one of the largest and most reactionary media powerhouses.  A correct comprehension of this merger has yet to emerge, even after more than eighteen months.  As this humble correspondent’s grandmother was wont to say, “It’s never too late: where there’s life there’s hope.”

INTRODUCTION

In this first of a multi-part series—today’s intro, a final component many weeks hence, plus at least four or five segments in between that examine the ‘meat-and-potatoes’ of the Huff-Po/AOL conjunction–giving credit where credit is due is a good way to start.  Arianna Huffington‘s How to Overthrow the Government  performs a valuable service for anybody who both believes in popular empowerment and has an inkling that the rule-of-the-rich has gone too far.  The book offers at least a modicum of clear and apt guidance to those who would foment or fuel an uprising from below.

The likes of this humble correspondent would vociferously suggest that ‘the book doesn’t go nearly far enough.’  Less charitable, and equally historically and socio-economically aware, critics have argued that, analytically and conceptually, the volume is at best irritatingly cautious and generally vapid.  Nevertheless, the work offers some useful advice to those who want to return socially democratic political action to the grassroots.  At least it conceives of public engagement as a necessary predecessor of political change.

That said, last year’s merger of Huffington Post and America Online is an entirely different kettle of fish.  Many honestly and erstwhile ‘progressive’ and ‘leftist’ commentators celebrated this joining, or at least, gave it a ‘wait-and-see’ nod.

The only certain thing is that the writers and participants who built Huffington Post won’t see a slender cent from among the thirty billion pennies, or billion and a half pennies in stock, that changed hands in that bargain.  Several already wealthy people, whose political and ‘strategic’ leadership had, for better or worse, guided the site, have, on the other hand made out like proverbial bandits.

The idea that this $315 million wedding, much to the benefit of Ms. Huffington’s coffers, might also represent ‘progress’ or be in the best interest of the ‘left’ arguably has much more to say about the deficiencies that attend the language of political description in the United States than it does with any rationally defensible consideration about promoting the needs of common people.  The notion that this is in the popular interest also speaks volumes about the lack of class leadership among working people, who prove willing all too often to rely on the likes of a rich globe-trotting fashion moll with the opportunistic instincts of a coyote.

‘Liberals’ also cozy up to hyper-imperialists such as Hilary Clinton, or so some would say; ‘progressives‘ commonly make common cause with Barack-the-Magnificent, whose wars will soon eclipse those of his predecessor; the ‘left’ is a hodgepodge collection of folks who a lot of times are trying to avoid the label that is at least honestly descriptive, that of socialist, or social-democrat.

This humble correspondent considers himself ‘progressive,’ and he’ll only squirm and grit his teeth at the nearly meaningless moniker of ‘leftist.’  However, he is avowedly and unabashedly socialistic in his approach and his analytical proclivities.  He has no problem noticing an obvious fact: without some sort of struggle for social and economic democracy, the worlds working people face further devastation and possible annihilation.

And in this vein, the marriage of the modern defense and imperial establishment, in the form of America Online, with a fetishized, paltry, petty-bourgeois liberalism, in the form of Huffington Post, accomplishes a perfect union from the perspective of ‘free-market’, ‘free-enterprise’ fraud-mongers.  As such, the following prediction makes sense: it will continue to turn out as it already has—at best a lukewarm hodgepodge.  Thus, for working people, for those who care about more than political labels and actually worry about substance, it will be at best a disastrous misallocation of allegiance and resources.

One way or another, the lack of class leadership, and the explicit embrace of both imperial ideation and bourgeois marketing and markets, will mean at best ‘friendly’ misleadership for the average people of the planet, who are suffering one body-blow after another to any hope that a ‘middle-class’ life will be even a credible fantasy.  One would have to acknowledge, at least as a possibility, that the time for a media of the people, by the people, and for the people is long overdue.

Such an admission ought then to portend a serious effort in such a direction.  Whether folks are, even now, ready to admit the obvious–‘But mommy, the king has nothing on!!’–and whether, even now, such an acknowledgment will yield the radical, populist upsurge that recognition ought to call forth, remains to be seen.

For this humble correspondent, the remainder of the present introduction merely contextualizes, all too quickly, the historical and conceptual undergirding of the media marriage that transpired at the start of 2011.  A four-piece unit on AOL’s background follows over the next few weeks, more or less.  Then, a three-chapter unit appears about Arianna Huffington and her love-child at Huff-Po.  A long single take on the merger itself will appear at that juncture, to complete the substantive units of this series.  Finally, a conclusion will then show up that, in the light of the insights and ideation of the intervening reporting and analysis, returns to some of the issues raised in today’s introductory paragraphs

BACKGROUND SYNOPSIS: the News-Media-Context From Which this ‘New-Media’-Deal Devolved

People who fancy themselves media-literate, or even who believe that following the news is important, have a duty to understand how in the world the media that we take for granted has transmogrified to become the apparent digital phantasmagoria that it is today.  This is neither the time nor the place to go into copious detail.  On the other hand, readers may rest assured that more detail will be forthcoming.

For now, this humble correspondent proposes that people consider one simple fact: media springs from the rich dirt of politics like magic mushrooms pop up from cow dung.  Ever since the creation of the secret, and sacred, codes that underlay the first written forms, publication has been a battlefield; the priestly and royal control–extended imperiously–always met a challenge from below, in the form of vernacular articulations of one sort or another.

Need one consider such arcane interpretations of such facts as Derrida’s “The Mystical Foundations of Authority?”  Or perhaps a more straightforward recollection, that law–the legitimation of force in favor of some stated ‘State,’ heretofore unheard of without social class divisions–is nothing without the capacity to record and annotate it, would serve as a ‘wake-up call’ about media’s social reality.  No matter what, from the ‘dawn of history,’ or text, as it were, the connection between writing and rule is unbreakable.

In any event, much more recently, since Gutenberg, for instance, every communication medium’s technological development and social deployment has entailed this combative dialectic.  The Bible may have been Johann’s first big project, but not too long afterward, the press itself helped Martin Luther affix his challenge to various posting places.

 

‘Martyrs-of-the-book’ died at fiery stakes, fueled in part by the materials that they created.  The English crown disallowed all but ‘licensed’ printers in similar fashion as the F.C.C. only permits safely-establishment and oligopolistic voices to have their portion of the broadcast spectrum today.  And even though the eviscerated First Amendment still exists, as a text, the quip is more apt than ever: “freedom of the press only applies if you own one.”

In essence, this all describes a pattern that has, quite plausibly, come to stand for a central trait of capitalist evolution.  Put most simply, “ruling classes today ‘manage’ people through a combination of ‘public-relations,’ propaganda, distraction, and repression.”

A more nuanced statement of this point is possible.  It might look something like this: “Key struggles over meaning, knowledge, and power all intersect with and emanate from controlling, first, the technologies and labor that compile recorded speech, and, second, the media for presenting those now extremely varied recordings; advantages in this contest, almost universally in the form of successful–or replicable–networks and paradigms that reach expanding ‘publics,’ serve to influence, and often to determine, social, political, and economic outcomes.

For all of its frequent flaws of glaring bourgeois bias, Paul Starr’s The Creation of the Media: Political Origins of Modern Communications offers pupils of these matters a relatively elegant empirical bedrock for supporting the above conclusion.  From the concomitant downfall of strict censorship and the censorious Stuarts; to the simultaneous libertine upsurge of colonial textuality—newsy, pugilistic, and both globally and locally aware; to the persistent rebellion that pamphleteering and ‘correspondence societies’ helped to launch and sustain; to the dialectically intertwined manifestation of knowledge, distribution, and publication forms that have seesawed their way through American history, this characterization of mediation seems, at least, reasonable.

The nearly universal initiation, co-optation, or capture of news-and-publishing outlets by the rising bourgeoisie took many forms.  However, this humble correspondent would insist that folks apprehend the undeniable veracity of the proposition that we have not come to today’s seemingly unstoppable effusion of hyper-monopoly in any other fashion than step-by-step, following original inclinations to their logical and predictable ends.

This is corroborated whether one adopts a biographical approach–from Horace Greely’s faux-Horatio-Alger-garnering of capitalist backing, to Hearst’s gold-mining, and gold-digging, parentage, and beyond, to the Luces, the Paleys and so forth and so on–to ascertaining information networks, or whether one prefers to examine the way that business and regulatory structures favor particular organization forms over others, or whether one chooses different, more intellectual and ideational formulations.  The history of media in America is, practically speaking–‘Citizen-Kane’ gossipy details notwithstanding, indistinguishable from the history of capitalism in America.

Advertising and marketing and propaganda together confirm thisPower-politics and the specifics of character assassination and the sway of secrecy demonstrate this.  The opportunistic inclusion or exclusion of access to ‘legitimate’ or ‘unacceptable’ publics combine with criminal and civil media law again and again to prove this.

Forthcoming investigation will delve more deeply into the political-economic and historical background that underpins the current media conundrums that afflict citizens.  The point of both this explication and what is to come is simple: in the realm of AOL’s conjunction with Huff-Po, such a conceptual, historical, and political-economic framework is critical to any understanding that is richer and deeper than either a ‘follow-the-yellow-brick-road’ optimism or a ‘lions-and-tigers-and-bears’ sense of panic.

 

SOME FINAL WORDS: The Only Media-Coup That Can Promote Democracy

The Grateful Dead’s “New Speedway Boogie” could easily serve as an anthem for the present pass.  It’s threatening lilt and gutsy force match the sensibilities of the current moment as well as anything outside the realm of rap.

“Please don’t dominate the rap, Jack, if you’ve got nothing new to say.

If you’ll please stomp back up the track, this train’s got to run today. …

I don’t know but I been told,

It’s hard to run with the weight of gold.

On the other hand, I done heard it said,

It’s just as hard with the weight of lead.

Who can deny, who can deny, it’s not just a change in style.

One step’s done, and another’s begun.

And I wonder how many miles. …

You can’t overlook the lack, Jack, of any other highway to ride.

It’s got no signs or dividing lines, and very few rules to guide

Now I don’t know but I’ve been told,

If the horse don’t pull, you got to carry that load.

Now, I don’t know whose back’s that strong.

Maybe find out before too long.

One way or another, one way or another, one way or another

This darkness got to give.

One way or another, one way or another, one way or another,

This darkness got to give”

            One way of responding to such energy is to flee in terror.  Another approach, however, is to recognize that, in times of “one way or another,” “Which Side Are You On?” and so forth, coalition is a necessary response to the inevitability of schism and polarization.

But before anything akin to coalition can even become a faint possibility, people need to wake up.  They need to turn off the TV’s that poison them with fear and loathing and fill their minds with misinformation or nonsense and their hearts with envy or despondency.  Like the denizens of ‘Dead Prez,’ they need to admit that we’ve been “telling lies to our children” and begin to correct them and atone for them.

One way or another, the only salvation for a popular democracy is a media that actually remains under popular control.  And that will never happen at Huffington Post, at Nation of Change, at Op-Ed News, or at most other ‘left-media’ outlets as currently constituted.

This humble correspondent has long promulgated the idea that People’s Information Networks might serve as a conceptual model for actual progress in relation to gaining grassroots power in the information sphere.  While future articles will further explore this idea, a few pointers now are apt to mention.

In this vein, this humble correspondent ends with some simple suggestions.  Let’s get together and call for a People’s Media Congress.  A People Power Congress shouldn’t be far behind.  People Power Seminars need to begin as soon as readers finish this sentence.

What are all of these things, exactly?  Well, let’s start talking about it. A grassroots, participatory, community-based uprising has to be better than what’s happening now.

As a Congressional candidate and acquaintance of this humble correspondent has stated the matter, “The time has come to take a stand.”  Oblivion beckons otherwise.

Readers might want to stay tuned and remember the words of Bette Davis.  “Fasten your seat-belts; it’s going to be a bumpy night.”

 

Hunger & Games & Spectacle as Precursors of Revolutionary Consciousness

‘The world is so full of a number of things; I’m sure that we ought all to be happy as kings.’ Leaving aside the begged query of, on average, just how happy kings are, the poet’s point certainly is well-taken. The phenomena of everyday life, not to mention the mediated daily news spectacle, must all, at the least, astound and fascinate.

A particular recent case of this plenitude of amazement is the book series by Suzanne Collins that has resulted in the release of the film, the “Hunger Games.” After taking precious funds to bring my hyper-skeptical lens to the movie, I found that I had no choice but to find my way to Malaprops, the independent literary establishment in Asheville, in order to page through Hunger Games and glance at Catching Fire and Mockingjay. Rather than being able easily to rip into the falsity and distortion that I anticipated finding in the works, a whole host of questions and ideas competed for attention.

For example, what do mass murder in Norway, ‘anti-terrorist’ soldiers’ posing with body parts in Afghanistan, a boom in brothel-tourism in Spanish villages, a cusp-of-viral ‘wild-girls’ video entitled “Huge Group of Girls”, and half a million other recent news items involving women, power, violence, and ‘spectacular’ culture all have in common? In fundamental and important, albeit diverse and widely varying, ways, they all reflect the themes of degradation, resistance, and revolutionary potentiation that characterize both the film and text versions of Hunger Games, the literary and motion-picture hit that has caught fire in the current context.

In identifiably real ways, these developments reflect the differing watchwords that different founding fathers of the United States purveyed about power and revolution. For example, resistance to tyrants is obedience to God.” And, “The end of democracy and the defeat of the American Revolution will occur when government falls into the hands of lending institutions and moneyed incorporations.”

While such ubiquitous tripe as Fifty Shades of Grey flexes promotional muscle to move a few hundred thousand copies of its ‘let’s celebrate our enslavement’ theme –after all, ‘it’s so romantic!’–the Hunger Games(HG) extravaganza, admittedly also with plenty of PR assistance, has reached millions of readers and viewers. In fact, as of April 30th, nearly 30,000,000 tickets had sold for the film alone. The paper and electronic versions of the three volumes of Suzanne Collin’s HG trilogy, meanwhile, also recently approached the thirty-million-distributed-copies mark.

In parsing what is transpiring with these almost earthshaking numbers, let’s start with the obvious. The world teeters on the verge of meltdown. Environmental catastrophe, mass murder in multiple guises, and varied manifestations of totalitarian imprisonment of body and soul seem to lurk at every juncture. And the truth of the matter is that socioeconomic prospects are so grim and loathsome that a fair number–perhaps a majority–of folks are ready to say ‘to hell with the environment,’ ‘praise the Lord and pass the ammunition’ for whatever genocide is ready to hand, or ‘sign me up for whichever prison detail feeds me best.’

Instead of palpable analysis about or tangible solutions to such noisome conundrums, today’s leading institutions and the functionaries who head them offer nothing but a combination of pablum, lies, distortions, and fetishistic horse manure in relation to conceptualizing or dealing with these real and unrelenting problems that face all humanity. Every day brings further travail and trouble. Every hour offers nonsensical and insulting bullshit as the supposed answer to people’s oft-spoken prayers for assistance and relief. Again, E.L. James’ virginal subjugation fantasy exemplifies this assessment. And its spiritual emulators are legion.

But this humble correspondent needs to add a qualification: “almost nothing” is more accurate in the accusation above. Suzanne Collins, for instance, whatever her motives and intentions in writing her amazing trilogy, whatever glorious profits that she has reaped, has also in fact proffered all of us a sobering and yet hopeful narrative–in the form of a simple yarn replete with allusions to mythic and psychic structures–that posits that the Earth’s human cousins may find ways to work together to survive rather than expire in a gushing rush of mass collective suicide.

The three volumes of the set clearly and harshly depict ‘the obvious’ points noted above. Just as disaster is the current motif of human existence, at the same time that metropolitan centers dally on the cusp of conflagration as if the favored minority resident there could command the apparent omnipotence of the HG arena itself, so too in Collins’ accounts–and, amazingly, in the first film of the series as well–oppressed and divided ‘districts‘ of the working poor slave and starve to feed ‘Capitol’ habits that tend to stylized self-aggrandizement based on technical mastery.

Viewers such as this humble correspondent, who have come to expect sickening fetish or superficial distortion or reactionary breast-beating or some combination of such from those in charge of mediating culture, cannot help but gawk in wonder and hope at Hunger Games, both the book and the movie. The premises of the work are sound. Social reality predominates, rather than fake little ploys that evince and elevate only the coy and the greedy, the supercilious and the selfish.

Perhaps most critically, from the start, unrelentingly, Katniss Eberdeen recognizes and insists on expressing that only authentic resistance–her volunteering as tribute, her letting fly an arrow among the coddled and arrogant, her covering the victim of the Anders-Breivik-lookalike-fascist’s spear with flowers after Katniss cuts him down, and on and on and on–can have any chance to overturn a system bankrupt and rotten to the core. She may dissemble; she may smile when she had rather slash; but her heart and soul are clear in their orientation to her own people against the leadership that assaults and oppresses her and hers.

To some extent, then, both Suzanne Collins and Gary Ross, the film’s director, must also be promulgating such a consciousness, capable of supporting revolutionary ideas and ideals. A critical insight near the end of Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed intelligently and intelligibly articulates this notion.

“Cultural action is always a systematic and deliberate form of action which operates upon the social structure, either with the objective of preserving that structure or of transforming it. …Cultural action either serves domination (consciously or unconsciously) or it serves the liberation of men. As these dialectically opposed types of cultural action operate in and upon the social structure, they create dialectical relations of permanence and change.”

Nor is this self-reflective component utterly absent from the ‘singularity’ that Collins’ work has engendered. Actually, the search string, “hunger games” “revolutionary consciousness” OR “class consciousness” OR uprising, leads to 1.69 million links. Leaving off the popular term, ‘uprising,’ to wit “hunger games” “revolutionary consciousness” OR “class consciousness,” still brings forth over 25,000 hits. Even paring this down, by absenting Barnes and Noble and Amazon linkages, yields nearly 20,000 connections. Many of these at least want to walk the revolutionary mile, so to say.

On the other hand, typical reification and putridity has its say first on the list of presented citations. Fetish and individualistic nonsense, in this case in the form of ‘following Jesus’ to salvation, thus, in some sense, take the first swipe, so to say.

Other reviewers turn up their noses at the hardness that Collins depicts in her characters. They seem to find an easier kinship with the soft and coddled denizens of Panem’s ‘Capitol’ environs.

And ultimately, cooptation remains omnipresent. A ‘Patch’ piece, from one of AOL’s much celebrated little prep-school enclaves, exemplifies this taming and defanging of Collins’ message .

However, the film’s songs include “Girl on Fire.” Its lyrics reject both cooptation and diminution of the inevitable suffering attendant on all essential acts of insurrection. Nevertheless, the singers intone, we have no choice but to arise to the struggle against oppression.

As well, Ms. Collins’ story itself is unequivocal in its rejection of kowtowing. It insists on resistance. It understands the inevitability of rebellion and uprising. Such iterations of revolt’s pendency pepper the book like cayenne in a spicy stock.

At the ‘Reaping Day’ events: “So instead of acknowledging applause, I stand there unmoving while they take part in the boldest form of dissent they can manage. Silence. Which says we do not agree. We do not condone. All of this is wrong. Then something unexpected happens. At least, I don’t expect it because I don’t think of District 12 as a place that cares about me. But a shift has occurred since I stepped up to take Prim’s place, and now it seems I have become someone precious. At first one, then another, then almost every member of the crowd touches the three middle fingers of their left hand to their lips and holds it out to me. It is an old and rarely used gesture of our district, occasionally seen at funerals. It means thanks, it means admiration, it means good-bye to someone you love.”

When Katniss views and comments on the summary-video that her vicious and venal captors have prepared about her exploits: “But I do notice they omit the part where I covered (Rue) in flowers. Right. Because even that smacks of (the) rebellion” that the leadership arrogantly eschews the merest mention of.

Perhaps of irresistible significance in this entire process of storytelling, production, and enculturation, the life story of Suzanne Collins peeks out from between the lines of her books. When imperial war put Suzanne’s career-soldier dad in the guise of stormtrooper and peacekeeper, Collins’ vain and self-centered mother in many ways left her brood of chicks to fend for themselves–a la Katniss and Prim with their mother in the film, after dad died in a coal-mining explosion.

Like Katniss’ soul-friend Dale, whom the intrepid young woman left behind when she took her sister’s place as the sacrificial ‘tribute,’ Suzanne Collins’ father may have taught of resisting the military juggernaut passively. Maybe, he would have sought to transform it by ignoring it.

That such matters–of history and empire and the militarization of ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave’–are arguably central to this exercise in yarn spinning and mythos emerges from multiple sources. Maybe the most unsettling and critical to note is the U.S. military itself, from the womb of which–so to speak– Ms. Collins herself has come to the world with her tales and cautions, her truths and premonitions. The Department of Defense is like a Panem avatar.

The United States Army Field Manual, Internment and Resettlement Operations, might have resulted from the Capitol’s mandates in Suzanne Collins’ all-too-plausible future. One need only substitute Collins’ dystopic appellation for ‘U.S.’

“An adaptive enemy will manipulate populations that are hostile to U.S. intent by instigating mass civil disobedience, directing criminal activity, masking their operations in urban and other complex terrain, maintaining an indistinguishable presence through cultural anonymity, and actively seeking the traditional sanctuary of protected areas as defined by the rules of land warfare. Such actions will facilitate the dispersal of threat forces, negate technological overmatches, and degrade targeting opportunities. Commanders will use technology and conduct police intelligence operations to influence and control populations, evacuate detainees
and, conclusively, transition rehabilitative and reconciliation operations to other functional agencies. The combat identification of friend, foe, or neutral is used to differentiate combatants from noncombatants and friendly forces from threat forces.”

These words apply to us. Loosely translated, here is what our savior soldiers’ orders entail, at least on those occasions when active fighting ensues. ‘Protest or any other form of resistance to authority equals war against order. The public relations difficulties of annihilating those who resist is such that the Army must incarcerate them instead. After appropriate shock therapy and attitude adjustment, selected rebels will have opportunities to return to their conditions of servitude, so long as they agree to shut up and do as they are told.’

Those of us who remain sentient must respond to such evidence of manifest tyranny and incipient fascism. Thomas Jefferson had plenty of issues, as well as plenty of money and land that his forebears stole from Native Americans. But he saw straight in many matters. He recognized the divine right and political necessity of revolution, even as he was aware that we will frequently resist the necessity of rising up till it is long past due.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established, should not be changed for light and transient causes; and, accordingly, all experience [has] shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer while evils are sufferable … But, when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce [the people] under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.”

His advice would echo Katniss Eberdeen’s thinking. The following words are from the series Epilogue, at the conclusion of the third volume, Mockingjay. She is reflecting from the vantage point of victory, having assisted in ‘providing different guards for future security’ from those of Panem’s divide-and-conquer machinations.

“The questions are just beginning. The arenas have been completely destroyed, the memorials built, there are no more Hunger Games. But they teach about them at school … . How can I tell them about that world without frightening them to death? …Peeta says it will be okay. We have each other. And the book. We can make them understand in a way that will make them braver. But one day I’ll have to explain about my nightmares. Why they came. Why they won’t ever really go away. I’ll tell them how I survive it. I’ll tell them that on bad mornings, it feels impossible to take pleasure in anything because I’m afraid it could be taken away. That’s when I make a list in my head of every act of goodness I’ve seen someone do. It’s like a game. Repetitive. Even a little tedious after more than twenty years. But there are much worse games to play.”

This also fits with what Suzanne Collins father discovered in Southeast Asia. Perhaps he sought to teach this to his cadets at the military academy where he taught military history. In any event, it is the takeaway of the Hunger Games. We ignore it at our peril.

Trayvon & Troy & Suicidal Systems That We Choose Not to Change

Introduction

Every homicide is a suicide. As Trayvon Martin’s mother stated“Trayvon was my son, but Trayvon was your son too.” What should be obvious is that a culture or a species that specializes in such ultimately suicidal outbursts as the wanton killing of Trayvon Martin is at risk of extinction. Trayvon’s dirge, in other words, plays for all of us.

Furthermore, that modern human polities, bristling with weapons of mass destruction in the hands of rulers who project their ‘terroristic’ tendencies onto faceless others-towelheads, sand-niggers, Islamofascists, and like ‘nonentities’-might be particularly prone to self-destruction is worth considering. Any such consideration, of course, requires that people give a good Goddamn about these matters.

More pertinent to this narrative-since in some sense, many tens of millions of people do ‘care’ about what went down in Sanford, Florida-such consideration also premises that people are willing to dig deeply enough into these persistent instances of immolation to figure out what causes and patterns are at work in them. Mere compassion and concern yield little that might avert such mayhem in the days and months and centuries to come-that is, if our thanatopic tendencies do not first manifest themselves so robustly as to wipe us all from the planet, like some sort of ‘pink slime’ that blights the natural order.

Similarly, mere knee-jerk reaction-in which mediated manipulation focuses attention on ‘all the usual suspects’-will never move us a millimeter in the direction of justice and democracy and popular personal and collective power. And if we fail to find a fashion to inch society toward social justice and democracy, then no force on earth will stop Trayvon’s face from appearing again, in slightly different guise, on the morning talk shows and the infinite plethora of portals on the World Wide Web that thrive on such reportage. In essence, we all risk facing Trayvon’s destiny.

Troy Davis’ recent murder by the state of Georgia chillingly illustrates this assertion; at least anyone willing to listen with his heart and ponder with her brain will see the irrefutable logic at play, easy enough to state in simple language . Young, swarthy men, whose wildness and toughness is an inevitable attribute of all youthful manhood’s manifesting itself, represent both a uniquely contemporary and a classically resplendent and grotesque instantiation of scapegoating.

Readers might think about the following additional cases, all of which have come to pass more or less in tandem with Trayvon’s soulless culling from our family.

   Staff Sgt. Robert Bale’s carnage against sixteen Afghans, mainlywomen and kids;
   The continued outcry against the ongoing Guantanamo incarceration of Omar Khadr, whose likely killing of a U.S. soldier apparently obviates all need for due process or openness in relation to the then-15 year old, who is now 24 and still has never faced trial or gotten independent legal counsel;
   The Mississippi conviction of and doling out a life sentence toDeryl Dedmon, a White teenager who hatefully drove down a Black man at random, as part of a ‘posse’ of young paragons of racial purity, none of whom-thus far-has had to stand before the bar of justice;
   Yesterday’s carnage in the Bay Area, in which a disaffected former student mowed down seven people and wounded three others at an Asian religious college.

A thorough expansion of such a list as this could easily run into the hundreds or thousands of cases-in Ohio’s schools, in various police jurisdictions, and in the innumerable murder-suicides that typify American life, all in the past few weeks or so. And in a sense, they are all Trayvon; their victims are all Trayvon; their legacies threaten all humanity with Trayvon’s end.

Whether these terrible, merciless matters of savagery and slaughter appear in the costume of the robed judges who ignore all the evidence of their senses in order to kill Troy, or in the confused glance of the pathetic worm who shot down Trayvon himself, or in some other way that random killshots come along, what is happening concerns a denial, projection, justification, expiation, and psychic management of political, economic, and historical crimes. The variations on the theme may be, practically speaking, endless. Nevertheless, Trayvon, blameless and wanting little more than life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, appears in all of them.

Those who wish to shun this history of racketeering and brutality project its violence onto victims. This in turn justifies or explains the entire dynamic, albeit in a way that is objectively baseless and prospectively hopeless. The wild brouhaha that ensues in the aftermath of every such explosive manifestation then serves to expiate the sense of sinfulness of a modern culture always on the verge of meltdown. Thus, the complete cycle-from denial to pretenses of penance-manages life today-like some ancient cleansing ritual that avoids grappling with the real issues in play-without necessitating the transformation that has to occur if we’re to survive, if we’re all to avoid ending up as Trayvon did.

A Plausible Explanatory Nexus

Yet we do want to find out facts, even if the data we search out facilitates no change whatsoever. We long for everything to fit in some orderly, coherent way that forces no one really to assume responsibility. We seem to want a story that doubles as indictment and exculpation, as both a justification of forgetting and a basis for keeping a false consciousness intact.

This humble correspondent happened to be in the right place at the right time to uncover evidence that absolved Troy Davis. Herepeatedlymade this point, in writing and speech, to no avail. The honesty of this narrative and the accuracy of these allegations of innocence were immaterial. In fact, they violated the sacrosanct apprehension of institutional honor without which we’d be much more likely to riot in the streets and so forth. Hence, this humble correspondent watched with a sickening sense of horror as Georgia-and the majority of Georgians-made themselves into cold-blooded murderers.

He has no such inside knowledge in relation to George Zimmerman, who ‘stood his ground’ and blew Trayvon Martin away. Moreover, he hasn’t any resources to pursue a full recounting. This is true at the same time that the ubiquity of those who ask pointless questions and develop heated non-sequiturs as argument is ever more prevalent. In this context, nevertheless, this humble correspondent can construct a reasonable depiction of what happened-a ‘creative delineation’ that can serve as a first step toward a potent response to this entire typical expression of American social insanity and criminal duplicity.

Judgmental, officious, aggressive, and impotent people are everywhere apparent these days. Many of them exude the initial noisome qualities as a mask for the final characteristic. The result is always depressing, and often these sorts describe their maladies as one form or other of ‘Depression.’

We might contemplateMr. Zimmerman in such terms. Unemployed, unable to complete his criminal justice studies, or otherwise gain entrance to the fraternity of those who wear badges, despite his issuing from a father who wore judicial garb, he promulgated the mythos that he could address the issues of powerlessness and pointlessness in his existence by externalizing them, blaming shadowy intruders who were ready to invade his realm and upset the fake semblance of security and comity that supposedly prevailed there. His pugnacity and righteousness, which led him to show enough audacity to justify gunning down an unarmed youth on a harmless commercial mission-skittles and soda, appear as something akin to a cover for the worthlessness that his face showed him to feel.

Ah, but the booking photo is not the ‘real’ Mr. Z, folks might say. Another shot, quite popular among the fascists and reactionaries who dominate the web and the media, purported ‘liberal’ proclivities thereof notwithstanding, shows George with ahuge smile: “George and the Giant Grin,” the caption might read.

When this humble correspondent looked at that depiction, the reaction was, like, an instantaneous ‘gulp!…Killer!’ This was primordial, beyond any rational decision-making nexus.

But maybe one is not skilled at detecting fake and lethal smiles. Certainly, no one else seems to be writing about this.

Let’s hear a few kudos for the BBC. This still arguably authentic news organization provides a 20-person line-up to test the capacity to detect counterfeit affability. This humble correspondent got 16 out of twenty , and only called one ‘genuine’ smile fake.

Based on the easily available images of George Z’s facial expressions, including of the blurred video of his entry at the police station in Florida, and on multiple descriptions of his rage reactions in various situations, a rational participant might see Zimmerman as a prime candidate for medication for ‘depression.’ He looks that way, acts that way, and blows people away that way.

Blunted affects are a common side-effect of anti-depressantsImpotence inevitably accompanies the use of some of them, not likely to be the sweetest outcome for this son-of-a-judge who had to be grappling with the ‘loser’ label for most of the last decade or so. Whatever the state of his pharmacological profile, Mr. Zimmerman has not been a happy camper for some time. In the event, here is a plausible story: maybe ‘medicine’ has played a role; perhaps not, but whatever the case may be, this psychosocially pathetic exemplar was acting out his psychopathology in predictably homicidal fashion, given his place in the bigger picture of the ‘American way.’

He was tiring of the plus or minus ten 911 calls a year that did not climax appropriately, from the point of view of George’s infuriated nihilism, in ‘getting the bad guy.’ “These assholes always get away,” he says moments before putting a bullet through Trayvon’s heart. With or without detailed premeditation, he may very well have imposed a script something like the following on the timeline of the evening of February 26th, an imposition that guaranteed a fulfilling release of the tensions in his life.

GEORGE: There you are; you’re not getting away this time….
TRAYVON: I don’t know what you’re talking about, I…
GEORGE: (Whispering, though with a furious spit)Nigger.
TRAYVON: What the fuck?
GEORGE: (Still whispering forcefully)Coon!
TRAYVON: Fuck you, motherfucker!
GEORGE: (Screaming)Help!
TRAYVON: (Baffled)What the hell?
GEORGE: Help me! Please, help me! (He moves closer and closer to Trayvon, his pistol at his side.)
GEORGE: God, someone please help me!!!
(He is within a meter of Trayvon, who adopts a defensive stance as the stranger approaches, raising his shooting arm as he closes the distance between them.) Helllllllllllppppp!!! BOOM!!!!

What happens next, in this rendering, is akin to a dress rehearsal, except that it represents a costuming after the fact instead of before the performance. George lies on his back next to the dying Trayvon, the young man’s death throes the most gratifying experience for George in many, many years. He stalwartly bangs his head on the concrete, until he can feel abrasions and blood. He then turns over, as Trayvon’s last bubbling bleed-out comes about and slams his face, nose first, against the pavement, satisfied when he himself begins to bleed out his nostrils.

The police arrive to find a bloodied and disoriented Mr. Zimmerman, a dead Mr. Martin, and the rest is ‘stand-your-ground’ history. But another view is obviously possible. Maybe Trayvon went ballistic.

After all, the criminally fraudulent and intentionally delusional actions of Trayvon’s school, in the thrall of the so-called ‘War-on-Drugs’ that permits among its many heinous consequences the criminalization of education, had recently led to his ten-day suspension. A baggie in his possession had detectable ‘traces’ of THC. This had caused a ‘grounding’ at home, a state in which, over and over again, young adults languish angrily here in the ‘land of the free and the home of the brave.’

In such a context, the ‘angry young man’ might easily ‘snap’ to the fore, as it were. So here’s another conceivable script. The ethnic slurs in this iteration are optional, though they certainly would add to the impetus to violence.

TRAYVON: ‘Chu following me for?
GEORGE: (Surprised)Stay back there nigger; I got something for you.
TRAYVON: (Angry)Fat chump, I could kick your ass.
GEORGE: Fucking coon; I’ll kill your ass. (Trayvon is on him in a second, tackling him and pounding him in one fell swoop). Helllppp!
TRAYVON: Cracker pig. (He hits him again, pushing his head into the cement.)
GEORGE: (Yelling)Help me! (He pulls his pistol, still screaming.) Somebody, help!!
TRAYVON: (Unaware of the weapon, whipping the larger man)Pussy! BOOM!!!!

Clearly, the thirty to ninety seconds that ended in a discharged weapon and a mortally wounded Trayvon Martin might have included, literally, an infinite number of details. Without doubt, these facts occurred at least somewhat differently from what this humble correspondent has estimated. On the other hand, arguably, the two categories of scenario depicted here represent something like what probably transpired in the chilly dark of Trayvon’s last seconds of life.

No matter what, we can never assure ourselves that we have reconstructed the events of that night with total fealty to the facts as they unfolded. In fact, one way of viewing the entire affair is that we are not meant ever to figure it out entirely. Instead, the manifest intention of the entire outpouring of attention over the event is to cause people to bicker about details and miss the points that, truly, do matter. In any case, with hundreds of millions of web portalsnow leading to “Trayvon Martin,” the overwhelming majority of them do have this sort of diversionary effect.

Various Pointless or Insipid Responses

Absolutely one of the two most common perspectives that result from the constant litany of murder, of which Trayvon’s execution is one instance, is that we ought to make weapons illegal or at least diminish the presence of guns in America. Such perspectives in relation to Trayvon, ranging from New York Times cartoons to breast-beating editorials hither and yon, number in the hundreds of thousands or more. Unfortunately, examined in even the most open-minded fashion possible, attacking guns as the source of the carnage that has claimed Trayvon is weak and stupid.

The weakness stems from various factors. Disingenuous is a charitable label for such critiques. Here we are in the world’s primary instigator of armed mayhem, in the planet’s most fully-stocked arms bazaar, where as much as half the productive economy relates in one way or other to merchandising death through weapons, and ‘liberals’ and pacifists are wont to say that the problem is hand-guns and other firearms in the possession of common citizens. It is tantamount to saying that the primary problem in European Nazi territories in the 1930′s and ’40′s was the presence of occasional armed gangs who would attack and terrorize Jewish people.

In a milieu that celebrates and institutionalizes armed violence, focusing on ‘grassroots’ emanations of such cruelty and brutality is at best a dodge from the primary underlying machinations of mayhem. More pertinent, such feints are typical in their effect, inasmuch as they focus public attention with absolutely zero attendant risk of enforced alteration of established relationships of oppression and opprobrium. The hue and cry for gun-control, in other words, will never in a million years attack the problems of poverty, of class-and-color-based incarceration, of the emergence of police-state mentality as de rigueur politics, of the idiotic corruption and cupidity of the ‘War-on-Drugs,’ or any of the other real factors lurking beneath Trayvon’s murder.

In an entirely different vein, the importance of Second Amendment, whatever one’s personal attitude toward weapons and violence, is utterly missing in the blame placed on citizen-owned ordnance. Whatever the analytical and evidentiary failings of Libertarians and different stripes of ‘patriots,’ they understand implicitly that the government, as currently constituted, represents an enemy force, and an occupying force, in their communities. Whether one listens to Dead Prezor Hank Williams Junior, this message resonates from the masses. “As long as the army, navy, air-force, and marines got gatt, we’re gonna pack heat too.”

Nor is such a view wrong-headed or useless. One need look no further than the bulging prisons, the lengthening unemployment lines, and the growing army of bailed-out plutocrats for confirmation that governing bureaucracies and administrators operate according to protocols different from those which would assist the interests of common people. The ‘right to keep and bear arms’ enshrined in the Bill of Rights was a nod to this pattern of rulers’ imposition on the ruled, a check in the system of checks and balances that retains resonance even in this day of purported commitment to non-violent means of dispute resolution.

The stupidity of focusing on pistols and bullets flows from the fact that winning a political battle that puts the criminalization of weapons at its center will, inevitably, further divide working people and ruin their capacity to stick up for themselves in relation to the most heavily armed police and military forces on earth. This tactic-divide and conquer-shows up repeatedly in such matters as this, helping to insure that the learning and insight that are possible from such horrors never leads anywhere productive for the victims.

The most common response to this situation, however, even more prevalent than bemoaning the ubiquity of ‘Gatt’ on the streets and in the neighborhoods of our society, is twofold, either a furious denunciation of ‘racism’ in this case or a denial that ‘racial’ motives make much of a difference here. The search for a mechanism of blame, on the one hand, and the attempt to preclude any measure of accepting responsibility, on the other hand, are a false duality, again perfect for keeping people who need to unite separate and wrangling.

Explications that revolve around the presence or absence of race or racism are as hopeless as accounts that blame the victim, or his clothes. Anyone who doubts the presence of White-supremacist thinking in this country needs a mental-health exam, stat. Anyone who fails to recognize that social privilege accompanies White skin is similarly deficient in brain functioning.

Nonetheless, even though such factors are obvious rationale for understanding what went on here, they simply don’t go nearly far enough. Moreover, they obscure critical points that concern politics and economics instead of social relations. Most problematically, such perspectives guarantee that theentire nauseating roller-coaster ride will make its rounds again, in the next ‘bread-and-circuses’ interlude that fails to examine what Richard Wright made clear in Native Son, his classic novel of scapegoating young men of color.

Can we listen to Wright’s communist attorney for Bigger Thomas and hear parallels, from all directions, to what is happening today? This humble correspondent is dubious, but the parallels are omnipresent if one is but willing to think about it.

“Crimes of even greater brutality and horror have been committed in this (area). Gangsters have killed and have gone free to kill again. But none of that has brought forth an indignation equal to this.

…Wh(at), then, fanned this hate into fury? Whose interest is th(e) thoughtless and misguided mob(in Trayvon’s case both the defenders and assailants of George Zimmerman)serving?

The State’s Attorney, knows for he promised the Loop bankers that if he were reelected demonstrations for relief would be stopped! The Governor of the State knows, for he has pledged the Manufacturer’s Association that he would use troops against workers who went out on strike! The Mayor knows, for he told the merchants of the city that the budget would be cut down, that no new taxes would be imposed to satisfy the clamor of the masses of the needy. …

There is guilt in the rage that(overflows here). …All of them-the mob and the mob-masters; the wire-pullers and the frightened; the leaders and their pet vassals-know and feel that their lives are built on a historical deed of wrong against many people, people from whose lives they have bled their leisure and their luxury.”

In terms of the historical and political-economic attributes, Bigger Thomas and Trayvon Martin represent a merely slightly divergent manifestation of fate. The first takes place in an era of Klan justice, whereas the second happens in the presence of an extremely brilliant and sympathetic Black President. But both young men represent the culmination of historical and material forces that must be part of what we deal with if we want to make things better.

Why, in Political Terms, ‘What Really Happened’ Does Not Matter

Thus, for citizens capable of contemplating Wright’s challenge, the relative ‘guilt’ or ‘innocence’ of George Zimmerman is immaterial, just as the remote possibility that Trayvon ‘blew up’ matters not a whit. The central issues that emerge from Trayvon Martin’s killing concern the wasted lives-White, Black, and Hispanic-that flow from the present U.S. methodology as foreseeably as does the inevitability that some of these lives laid waste will in turn ‘waste’ the chances of others, with the pull of triggers, the plunging of needles, and otherwise.

Equally significant as the faultiness of popular consciousness are the motives and rule of those in charge. As Wright recognized, and as we ought to emphasize so emphatically that all misleading distraction is easy to throw away, those at the helm of society-mediators, interpreters, executives, pontificators, administrators, pundits, and more-gain leverage, political space, and key social objectives in continuing our confusion about what Trayvon’s death means. Once these patterns become clear, neither the sick victimization of Trayvon, nor the soulless wastage of George Zimmerman’s life, is germane to our improving things. Only transformation of revolutionary scope can lead anywhere useful. Those who would address error, poor management decisions, better laws, and the like are, at best, promulgating futility.

“It’s not a ‘mistake,’” is something we should shout out. An absolute principle in law and science is that if a process or dynamic or a reaction appears often enough, then its appearance is part of the plan, a component portion of the overall dynamic in play. To put the case most baldly, in avoiding a reality orientation to the past and present political economics of American society, Trayvon’s death was our choice, and until we shift our approach and relate to each other differently, worsening horror will also amount to our preference.

A nation of murderers and accomplices-of victims and bystanders who blame others in a way that locks in persistent sadism, spite, and inhumanity-is the ineluctable fruition that will blossom from Trayvon’s death unless we adjust the ways that we see and understand.

Can we undertake to accomplish such a transformation is vision and consciousness? Human viability likely depends on figuring out how to answer affirmatively.

The Surface Meaning of Trayvon Martin’s Death and the Popular Response to It

A depth-reporting investigation of the Trayvon phenomenon would reveal that it has many simulacra in recent memory. O.J. Simpson, Columbine, Nidal Hasan: the list of greater and lesser ‘madmen’ who have gone on killing sprees would run in to the hundreds in North America in the last decades or so alone. The most obvious upshot of such continued brutalization is fairly easy to state; it’s the ‘American way,’ in its most essential aspect.

“We can sell this:” the spectacularization and commodification of murder for the passive and powerless has subsumed every aspect of American culture, from YouTube to ‘Reality TV,’ from stand-up to talk-talk-talk-talk radio. As horrifying as this admission is, only one blind to what happens in the aftermath of an incident will deny the likelihood of this conclusion. A combination of ‘bread-and-circuses’ and scapegoating is at work here.

The benefits to those atop the heap, as it were, are many. They make money from nothing. They divert attention from the underlying problems that would strip them of power were we collectively to address them. They divide those who can only stand against entrenched wealth and privilege if they find a way to unite. The list goes on and on.

For those who want to ‘defend’ George Zimmerman, a Spanish aphorism is apt. “No hay peor ciego que el que no quiere ver.” The English translation is apropos for those who would demonize Mr. Martin. ‘Nothing is worse than a blind man who does not want to see.’

Nor is the innocence of Trayvon Martin central here. His sanctity as a human being was undermined by the standard operating procedures of everyday America. Only by rejecting that SOP can we honor Trayvon and gain anything that is not specious from his death.

The Deeper Meaning of Trayvon’s Murder and the Inauthenticity in Response

Would anyone dare suggest that slavery was just a mistake? That lynch-law was merely a series of unintended errors? That mass incarceration that targets Blacks and other ‘minorities’ is somehow ‘accidental?’ At the absolute best, interpretations of this ilk would elicit waves of revulsion.

Yet almost everything that appears near the top of the millions of citations that ponder this travesty is making just this sort of argument. If we get rid of the ‘mistake’ of ‘stand-your-ground,’ the moral error of ‘racism,’ then all will somehow heal. Or, alternatively, if we either recognize that George Zimmerman was only confused or overzealous, or-obviously worse-acknowledge that many or most Blacks are somehow ‘criminal,’ then we’ll stop blowing the entire incident out of proportion.

While the intellectual integrity of the former analyses are much more credible than the latter sorts of scrutiny, the point to take away from thinking about the matter is that neither is adequate to overturn further instances of havoc against future Trayvons. Most critically, this inadequacy is equivalent, in that neither type of assessment delves deeply enough into the matter to locate the lynchpin of the nearly infinite recurrence of such lynchings in this culture.

 

The Plight and Possibility of the Public Intellectual

 Public Intellectuals, while seldom rolling in riches, are often fabulously endowed with love. As such a one, this humble correspondent shouts, “Praise to All That Is for love!”

This humble correspondent’s wife and true love—bless her heart for casting in her lot with such a one—has embarked on a magnificent undertaking recently. This entry into the annals of the Southeast Review of Media, Culture, and Politics both invites readers to ponder this mission, as well as to consider supporting it, and provides a brief discourse on the nature of life in the realm of the ‘nerd-without-portfolio,’ the intellectual-without-institutional-backing, the Public Intellectual.

Public intellectuals(P.I.) are philosophers, researchers, investigators, scribes, or some combination of these and other occupations, whose only allegiance is to the need of their fellow cousins for information, ideas, analysis and so on. They do not necessarily receive funding from non-governmental organizations or foundations; they certainly are not on the payroll of any commercial enterprise; the availability of advertising dollars is rare or nonexistent.

They, like this humble correspondent(THC), follow the lead of Alduous Huxley’s character  in Point, Counterpoint, who, speaking to his disinherited lover—she, after all, had the temerity to adore a P.I.—says, “the likes of us have to live by our wits.” Making ends meet is a constant scramble.

The continuation of their work depends on this too. Thus, many P.I.’s have income unrelated to labor. They inherit funds; they marry money that avoids disinheritance; they win a lottery somewhere.

Alas, for some of the breed, as for THC and his sweet love, this cash from largesse is generally unavailable. So they cut wood, deliver pizzas, or sell their brains to clients and strangers who will on occasion pay for their wit. After all, P.I.’s today live, along with the rest of modern humankind, in the same market-economy that puts a price tag on just about everything.

Sometimes, a new mechanism appears that offers an opportunity to garner income for their work. This is the case with a website like KickStarter, which gives ‘creative’ sorts a chance to pitch their projects to all manner of family, friends, and barely-known others.

Neither THC nor his spouse had much optimism that the KickStarter project in question here would permit them to gather monies to move our work forward. Unexpectedly, a combination of long hours by Alicia and the generosity of some of her long standing friends and newer acquaintances, along with the assistance of quite a few random strangers, has brought us to within striking distance of our goal.

A patron of Alicia’s brilliance has promised to post the final thousand dollars of the $3,200 goal, if the program achieves the feat of getting pledges for $2,200. As of today, 2/1/2012, we are within about a thousand dollars of that goal, with two days remaining in which to prove our mettle and put together that additional funding.

Thus, this missive requests that readers consider what Public Intellectuals are worth. Alicia’s project—joining wood-canvases sculpted by weather and water with a reconfiguration of the work of J.M.W. Turner, one of the great rebels and visionaries of the artistic canon—is inherently worthy in its own right. It imagines artistic production as a statement about water and nature and people’s relationship to this web of life that has woven us in its skein.

In addition, the funding of this work proffers the best chance for the roots that we have begun to put down in Appalachia to maintain and deepen their grip. This enterprise of ours is bringing to the fore questions of social justice, community capacitation, and the development of Peoples Information Networks and Cultural Action Networks. Perhaps those who appreciate THC’s efforts in regard to Troy Davis, understanding Peak Oil, bringing to light the hidden spects of nuclear history, explicating the stories of true heroes like Smedley Butler, and more, will find in their hearts—not to mention in their consideration of their self-interest—a willingness to donate a small amount to this campaign, and to reach out to others to do the same.

We here in Western North Carolina are ‘in it for the long haul,’ as the saying goes. But the potential in this project, if it can come to pass, would certainly make the short-run seem a little more manageable. As well, of course, a tremendously beautiful and meaningful series of paintings would result.

What could be finer? A few dollars helps to advance people power and the manifestation of meaningful beauty.