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 The Red Emigrant By Bruce Robbins – The Nation MARCH 30, 2017

7 Apr

Born in 1907, in a small Polish village that was then part of the soon-to-vanish Austro-Hungarian Empire, Deutscher was 10 when the Bolsheviks came to power in Russia. He would later chronicle their story, in incredibly gripping detail, in his monumental three-volume biography of Leon Trotsky, but his preparation for that work started with a sense that many of the solid things around him were at or near the point of melting into air. His Orthodox Jewish family was strictly observant, and as a child (and something of a prodigy) he was sent to study with a Hasidic rabbi. At the age of 13, Deutscher was consecrated as a rabbi himself. But as we learn from the beguiling biographical sketch that his wife and longtime collaborator, Tamara Deutscher, appends to The Non-Jewish Jew, a collection of Deutscher’s essays now republished by Verso Books, his father—a printer—­also passed along his fervent, if religiously troublesome, passion for modern German writers, including the poet Heinrich Heine. If you write in Polish, Deutscher’s father repeatedly advised him, no one will understand you beyond Auschwitz. At that point, Auschwitz was merely the name of a nearby town.

In November 1918, the first week of Polish independence brought to the region where the Deutschers lived not one but three pogroms. Yet as Poland and other new nations emerged from the ruins of shattered empires after the First World War, the young Deutscher became something of a Polish patriot. At 14, he repudiated his family’s Judaism as a vestige of feudalism. At 16, he began publishing poetry in Polish that was influenced by Jewish mysticism and Polish romanticism, and he translated German, Yiddish, Hebrew, and Latin verses into Polish. At 20, he joined the Polish Communist Party.

In 1931, Deutscher was sent by the party to Soviet Russia to report on the economic results of the first Five-Year Plan. He learned more about the trajectory of the revolution than the party was comfortable with him knowing. A year or so later, he was expelled for “democratic deviations,” including his refusal to treat Western social democracy as the moral equivalent of Nazism. He got a job with a Jewish newspaper in Poland and, in April 1939, was sent off to London, where he set about learning English. The move saved his life: The Nazis invaded Poland around five months later, and Deutscher never saw his parents again.

Exile spelled the end of the Eastern European phase of Deutscher’s career, but he didn’t allow it to define him. In his own eyes, he was rooted—and proudly so—in the tradition of Spinoza, Heine, Marx, Luxemburg, Trotsky, and Freud, the “non-Jewish Jews” he discusses in the title essay of this still-sparkling reprint. He was also rooted in leftist internationalism, a tradition that provided him with a home wherever he happened to live.

Deutscher’s political commitments and his experiences with the Polish Communist Party also gave him an activist’s sense that timing was at least as important as principle, a sense that subtly relativized his judgments and clearly informed everything he went on to write, whether it was his journalism as a Russian-speaking commentator on the Kremlin, his political criticism, or the works of history that subsequently made him famous.

Though England took him in, Deutscher remained an exile from the world of the English university. Unlike many of his leftist peers, he wrote his long, richly documented books on Trotsky and Stalin without the benefit of an academic post. Deutscher’s chance at a university job and a stable income was stopped cold by no less than Isaiah Berlin, according to Michael Ignatieff’s biography of the Russian-British philosopher and historian of ideas, whose considered opinion when consulted on the hire was: Over my dead body. Perhaps this was owing to political differences; perhaps it was the result of a bitingly negative review of Berlin that Deutscher had published some years earlier. Once Deutscher was out of the picture, Berlin insisted that his evaluation had not been decisive, but this claim has not stood up to scrutiny. Deutscher’s name also figured on the list of communist sympathizers that George Orwell secretly gave to the British Foreign Office in 1949, the year when Deutscher’s biography of Stalin was published.

In “Components of the National Culture” (1968), Perry Anderson argued that some of the most influential intellectuals who fled to Britain from political violence on the continent—people like Berlin, Karl Popper, Bronislaw Malinowski, Melanie Klein, and Ludwig Wittgenstein—had elective affinities with Britain’s very uncontinental tradition of nonviolent continuity and relative social stability. Once established in Britain, Anderson said, they reinforced and expanded that tradition, leaving Britain more conservative still.

In Anderson’s view, Deutscher was the most prominent exception to this “White emigration.” Perhaps because of the idiosyncrasies of his radicalism—one that did not quite conform with either British communist or social-democratic politics—Deutscher was ignored by Britain’s academic world. Or perhaps it was because his intellectual independence, his journalistic flair and polemical style, didn’t conform with England’s cloistered and sometimes stodgy university culture. In any case, Anderson never ignored him—in fact, anyone searching for evidence of Deutscher’s intellectual afterlife would need look no further than Anderson’s brilliant accomplishments as a historian and political analyst.

Like Deutscher, Anderson has proved over the years to be a polyglot polymath; like Deutscher, he recognizes no appeal above or beyond what Gregory Elliott calls, in his book about Anderson, “the merciless laboratory of history.” Both were drawn to the “olympian universalism” of Marx and Engels, although perhaps not equally so.

Anderson related an anecdote that suggested a small but telling difference between the two men. In the 1960s, Anderson was loudly indignant at England’s lack of political dynamism. Why, he asked, could France boast of so many revolutions, while modern England had had none? In a foreword to the volume in which “Components” is reprinted, he recalled Deutscher informing him that he could not fully approve of Anderson’s disengagement from political possibilities on the ground, imperfect as they might be. Borrowing a term from Rosa Luxemburg’s misguided refusal to support Polish independence before World War I, Deutscher said that Anderson’s position was guilty of “national nihilism.”

In saying no to nihilism even about nationalism, of which he was no fan, Deutscher was passing on some practical wisdom—­wisdom intended in particular for anyone trying to stretch political commitment beyond the heady enthusiasm of youth. To judge everyday politics by the high standard of revolution is to make oneself vulnerable to despair, or at least apathy. It can also be self-defeating, parachuting a set of abstract standards into a community that might be receptive to a politics’ goals but is either confused or alienated by the language in which those goals are pursued. As a longtime revolutionary, Deutscher was well-placed to insist that there are other paths toward social justice.

Unlike more mainstream critics of Soviet Russia, Deutscher was not a liberal. He was committed to democracy, and his objections to the Soviet regime overlapped in places with the standard liberal objections, but one of the things he appreciated in Trotsky was the latter’s firm belief that, despite Russia’s social and economic backwardness, the Russian revolutionaries of 1917 should not aim for a liberal government that would leave private property untouched. Instead, as Trotsky argued, he believed that the revolution could leap over the constitutional stage, seeking to satisfy the material demands of workers and peasants. Of course, no one reflecting on what would ultimately happen to the revolution under Stalin is likely to conclude that this question has been resolved in Trotsky’s favor. Was Russia too backward to skip liberal capitalism? And, more to the point, would a constitutional system that protected bourgeois rights have created the necessary impediments to the terror that followed once Stalin secured power? Trotsky himself was to change his mind on these issues, and to Deutscher’s credit, he didn’t pretend that he possessed a higher or privileged knowledge.

Deutscher’s open questions about the subsequent course of the Russian Revolution—a revolution he never entirely gave up on—also help explain his extraordinary moral generosity, what one might even call the Tolstoyan quality of his historical writing. Strident advocacy was something that Deutscher just could not seem to pull off. Every sentence he wrote as a historian bore some mark, however faint, of ongoing self-disputation.

This was true even when it came to Stalin, and it was perhaps one reason why many found his biography of Stalin so troubling. Stalin had ordered the murder of Trotsky, along with so many others, and in Deutscher’s hands, Stalin is a monster—but he is not simply a monster and Deutscher tried to understand Stalin’s motives. “It is not necessary to assume that he acted from sheer cruelty or lust for power,” Deutscher wrote in his biography. “He may be given the dubious credit of the sincere conviction that what he did served the interests of the revolution and that he alone interpreted those interests aright.”

This was never intended as a defense of Stalin, but rather as an argument that even his most appalling actions did not lie beyond the possibility of historical explanation. To put them beyond historical explanation would be to pretend that the revolution did not embody its own contradictions, which predated Stalin’s years of monomaniacal dictatorship and (as Deutscher didn’t fail to note) marked Trotsky’s political career as well.

It might seem that accepting the existence of those contradictions—contradictions that Deutscher believed were baked into the very soul of leftist revolutionism in general and the Russian Revolution in particular—would lead him to opt for fatalism. But somehow it did not. Deutscher was able to make the contradictions very clear (and make a life outside the Communist Party) without giving up on the hope of revolution itself, whether in Russia or as a planetary goal that must continue to take heart from the initial triumphs of 1917. The peoples of the West needed to be reminded, Deutscher thought, that when the Russians fought the Nazis in World War II, it was not out of primal patriotism alone; they were engaged in “a battle for the existence of the workers’ movement.” His audience at Berkeley in 1965 needed to be reminded that the threat of aggression from the Soviet Union, which supposedly justified America’s Cold War mission in Vietnam, was in his view ludicrous. There was no parity of power between the United States and the USSR: One was a superpower, while the other had emerged from World War II “prostrate and bled white.”

Now the Russian people were trying to shake off that nightmare along with the memory of Stalin. Progressives in the West had the obligation to help them do it. This meant viewing the Cold War not only from the standpoint of the West but also from that of the East. The Vietnam War exacerbated the Cold War, thereby making Russian life worse. What Deutscher was trying to offer to the crowd of antiwar protesters in 1965 was a Russia-centered case against the Vietnam War. It was almost certainly not what the audience had been expecting to hear, but somehow it was at once both politically inspiring and bracingly independent from the simple moral binaries that antiwar protest seemed to demand.

In 1903, at the Brussels congress where Bolsheviks and Mensheviks first laid out their differences of opinion, Trotsky made one of the rare speeches in which he referred to himself as a Jew. He did so in order to speak with personal authority against the Jewish Bund, which was demanding the right to “cultural autonomy,” including the ability to elect its own governing body and set its own policy with regard to the Jewish population. Of course the Jews should have the right to be educated in Yiddish, Trotsky explained, but how could socialism—which was interested in overcoming the barriers that divided countries, religions, and nationalities—­turn its hand to erecting its own barriers to this vision of universal emancipation?

Deutscher had been raised at the very heart of Yiddish culture in Polish Austro-Hungary and had played an active and creative part in it. For him, Yiddish was a 
language and culture that was always entangled with the labor movement. Like Trotsky, he tended to think of himself as a revolutionary first and a Jew only afterward. But Deutscher also did think of himself as a Jew, and in ways that encourage a variation on the question in Anderson’s essay: What are the components of Jewish identity?

As the title of this collection suggests, Deutscher’s own sense of Jewish identity is completely disconnected from the Jewish religion. As an adult, he announced his atheism without apology, finding no virtues in the Hasidism of his youth and describing as Kafkaesque “the fashionable longing of the Western Jew for a return to the sixteenth century.” But his secularism was not merely negative; it was also positive, active, emancipatory, and above all sociable. For Jews, it entailed a gesture of trust in the gentiles around them, trust that they and non-Jewish progressives could make common cause and share in its victories.

From this positive, humanist view of secularism, Deutscher asserted that Jewish identity could never be a matter of Jewish control over territory. “I have nothing in common with the Jews of, say, Mea Sha’arim,” he declared, “or with any kind of Israeli nationalists.” The obsolescence of the nation-state had been proven in the meaningless slaughter of World War I. There was thus a terrible irony for him in the founding of Israel: Jews were investing in the nation-state just as it had gone into what Deutscher thought (prematurely) was a state of terminal decline.

And what of the Holocaust, which might well have shaken Deutscher’s trust in the possibility of Jews finding common cause with the gentile world? Though it more or less bisected his life, the Holocaust did not lead him to defect from the camp of the secularizers and believers in modernity. The Nazis were the reason, after all, why the Eastern European Jewish culture in which he was raised no longer existed. But when Deutscher talks about that culture, he quotes a conversation he had with the Yiddish satirist Moshe Nadir in the 1920s. Nadir was already predicting that in the future Yiddish would no longer be spoken, perhaps because the Jews, now happily assimilated, would be speaking Polish or Russian. Nadir looked to that day with equanimity, because when Yiddish became a dead language like Latin, his satires would be read as classics, on a par with those of Horace and Ovid. By invoking this old line from Nadir, Deutscher seemed to be saying that the Yiddish culture the Nazis took away would have been lost in any case to a history that was both merciless and progressive. What should be mourned, therefore, was not the culture but the lives that had disappeared into the immense maw of World War II. About history itself, which he’d always imagined as shared between Jews and non-Jews, he remained confident that despite its brutalities, humanity would emerge from it better off. One of the less obvious qualities he attributes to the line of “non-Jewish Jews” running from Spinoza to Freud is optimism. Yes, he saw Freud too as an optimist.

If Deutscher had gone to New York instead of London, his anti-Stalinist leftism, his literary verve, and his liveliness in debate would no doubt have earned him speedy entrée into the talkative circles of the New York intellectuals. Trotsky had admirers there, and Deutscher did make a couple of visits. But keeping up his membership might have required some negotiation among that rancorous crowd. As these essays show, Deutscher wasn’t shy about expressing his contempt for Jewish intellectuals in the West, who, he believed, had become conservative during the Cold War, championing the so-called liberal “way of life” of Britain and the United States, and he would have also become uncomfortable with those who shed the radical, universalistic impulses of Jewish culture in favor of a more particularist one.

For Deutscher, geographical and class differences among Jews were pronounced enough to make him skeptical of any such thing as a “Jewish community” that currently exists or could come into being as religious observance fades. In his lifetime, the history of persecution had not yet quite replaced Judaism at the center of Western Jewish identity. But his own thoughts on Jewish identity did center on the Holocaust, perhaps inevitably so. “I am a Jew,” he says in a piece discussing the Holocaust, “because I feel the Jewish tragedy as my own tragedy.” It was the Holocaust that caused Deutscher to unbend toward Zionism, if only slightly. “If, instead of arguing against Zionism in the 1920s and 1930s,” he wrote, “I had urged European Jews to go to Palestine, I might have saved some of the lives that were later extinguished in Hitler’s gas chambers.” But even here, he is careful to make clear his aversion to any form of Jewish nationalism: “Even now, however, I am not a Zionist.”

The book contains two versions of a famous parable of Israel’s founding in the wake of the Holocaust, a parable that is sometimes all that people remember of Deutscher. In the first telling, from 1954, a man jumps from a burning ship onto a raft. Deutscher’s point is that any nation-state is merely a raft, a temporary solution that should not be turned into a permanent (nationalist) program, as Israel seemed to be doing. In the second telling, from 1967, written in response to the Six-Day War, the man jumps from a burning building and survives, but he lands on a person on the sidewalk below (who stands in, of course, for the Palestinians) and breaks his arms and legs.

“If both behaved rationally,” Deutscher comments, “they would not become enemies.” But rationality does not prevail. “The injured man blames the other for his misery and swears to make him pay for it. The other, afraid of the crippled man’s revenge, insults him, kicks him, and beats him up whenever they meet. The kicked man again swears revenge and is again punched and punished.”

I don’t imagine that many will be entirely happy with this parable. Still, it offers an interesting alternative to the concept of settler colonialism, and it did not stop Deutscher from remaining sharply critical of Israel, reminding his readers that David Ben-Gurion referred to non-Zionist Jews as “rootless cosmopolitans”—Stalin’s favorite euphemism for the Jewish Bolsheviks and intellectuals he wiped out. Or, in Deutscher’s commentary on the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, written two months before his death, that he saw in Israel’s “victory” a prophecy of disaster and in Moshe Dayan a kind of Vice-Marshal Nguyen Cao Ky, then the preferred tool of the Americans in Vietnam. It also didn’t stop him from criticizing Israel’s collusion with American foreign policy during the Cold War and its refusal to be a neighbor to its neighbors. Israel’s future depended, Deutscher believed, on the ability of the Israelis “to find a common language with the peoples around them.”

As Deutscher wrote in the collection’s final essay, the Holocaust was the one event that transcended historical explanation. By historicizing his internationalism, it changed his mind about his programmatic anti­-Zionism, albeit without making him a Zionist. But it did not shake his core conviction that for Jews, as for everyone else, history does not demand the purity of an ethnocentric utopia—or any kind of utopia, for that matter. Instead, history demands of us the harder work of change in the nations we live in and with the neighbors we’ve been given. It also requires a careful attention to timing. BRUCE ROBBINS Bruce Robbins, a professor of English at Columbia University, is the author, among other books, of Feeling Global: Internationalism in Distress(NYU).


The “Rigged System” holds no future for the 99% – but a Revolution does –Earth  First  “Serve the People – Serve the Planet” – #BecomeUngovernable –

#BecomeUngovernable; A Nation of the Walking Dead by Chris Hedges

3 Apr

Donald Trump mastered the techniques of turning desperate gamblers at his casinos into zombies, techniques he used to become president. – 2017/04/02

Opioids and experiences that simulate the deadening effects of narcotics are mechanisms to keep us submissive and depoliticized. Desperate citizens in Aldous Huxley’s 1932 novel “Brave New World” ingested the pleasure drug soma to check out of reality. Our own versions of soma allow tens of millions of Americans to retreat daily into addictive mousetraps that generate a self-induced autism.

The United States consumes 80 percent of opioids used worldwide, and more than 33,000 died in this country in 2015 from opioid overdoses. There are 300 million prescriptions written and $24 billion spent annually in the U.S. for painkillers. Americans supplement this mostly legal addiction with over $100 billion a year in illicit marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin. And nearly 14 million U.S. adults, one in every 13, regularly abuse alcohol.

But these monetary figures are far less than what we spend on gambling. Americans in 2013lost $119 billion gambling, with an additional $70 billion—or $300 for every adult in the country—spent on lottery tickets.

Federal and state governments, reliant on tax revenues from legal gambling and on lottery ticket sales, will do nothing to halt the expansion of the industry or the economic and psychological toll it exacts on those in financial distress. State-run lottery games had sales of $73.9 billion in 2015, according to the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries. This revenue is vital to budgets beset by declining incomes, deindustrialization and austerity. “State lotteries provided more revenue than state corporate-income taxes in 11 of the 43 states where they were legal, including Delaware, Rhode Island, and South Dakota,” Derek Thompson wrote in The Atlantic. “The poorest third of households buy half of all lotto tickets,” he noted. Gambling is a stealth tax on poor people hoping to beat the nearly impossible odds. Governmental income from gambling is an effort to make up for the taxes the rich and corporations no longer pay.

Slot machines and other electronic gambling devices are engineered to draw us into an Alice-in-Wonderland rabbit hole. They, like our personal computers and hand-held devices, cater to the longing to flee from the oppressive world of dead-end jobs, crippling debt and social stagnation and a dysfunctional political system. We become rats in a Skinner box, frantically pulling levers until we are addicted and finally entranced by our compulsion to achieve fleeting, intermittent and adrenaline-driven rewards. Much like what happens to people using slot machines, the pigeons or rats inSkinner’s experiments that did not know when they would get a reward, or how much they would get, became the most heavily addicted to operating the levers or pedals. Indeed, Skinner used slot machines as a metaphor for his experiments.

Source: A Nation of the Walking Dead (from @Truthdig)



The engineers of America’s gambling industry are as skillful at forming addiction as the country’s top five opioid producers—Purdue Pharma, Johnson & Johnson, Insys Therapeutics, Mylan and Depomed. There are 460 commercial casinos, 486 tribal casinos, 350 card rooms, 55 racetracks and hundreds of thousands of gaming devices, many located in convenience stores, gas stations, bars, airports and even supermarkets.

The rush of anticipation, available in 20-second bursts, over hours, days, weeks and months creates an addictive psychological “zone” that the industry calls “continuous gaming productivity.” Heart rates and blood pressure rise. Time, space, the value of money and human relationships hypnotically dissolve. A state of extreme social isolation occurs.

Gambling addicts, like many addicts, are often driven to crime, bankruptcy and eventual imprisonment. Many lose everything—their marriages, their families, their jobs, their emotional health and sometimes their lives. Gambling addicts have the highest rate of suicide attempts among addicts of any kind—1 in 5, or 20 percent—according to the National Council on Problem Gambling.

Donald Trump is in large part a product of gambling culture. His career has not been about making products but about selling intangible and fleeting experiences. He preys on the desperate by offering them escapist fantasies. This world is about glitter, noise and hype—Trump called the Trump Taj Mahal, his now-closed casino, “the eighth wonder of the world.” The more money you spent, the greater your “value,” the more you were pampered, given free hotel rooms and gifts, handed passes to special “clubs” with lavish buffets. Scantily clad hostesses hovered around you serving complimentary drinks. If you spent big, you were invited to exclusive parties attended by supermodels and famous athletes. Decorated chips—some featuring a photo of Donald Trump—turned cash into a species of Monopoly money. But in the end, when you were broke, when there was no more money in your bank account and your credit cards were maxed out, you were thrown back, in even greater financial distress, into the dreary universe you tried to obliterate.

Roger Caillois, the French sociologist, wrote that the pathologies of a culture are captured in the games the culture venerates. Old forms of gambling such as blackjack and poker allowed the gambler to take risks, make decisions and even, in his or her mind, achieve a kind of individualism or heroism at the gambling table. They provided a way, it can be argued, to assert an alternative identity for a brief moment. But the newer form, machine gambling, is an erasure of the self. Slot machines, which produce 85 percent of the profits at casinos, are, as the sociologist Henry Lesieur wrote, an “addiction delivery device.” They are “electronic morphine,” “the crack cocaine of gambling.” They are not about risk or about making decisions, but about creating somnambulism, putting a player into a trancelike state that can last for hours. It is a pathway, as sociologist Natasha Dow Schüll points out, to becoming the walking dead. This yearning for a state of nonbeing is what Sigmund Freud called “the death instinct.” It is the overpowering drive by a depressed and traumatized person to seek pleasure in a self-destructive activity that ultimately kills the organism.



“It is not the chance of winning to which they become addicted,” Schüll writes in “Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas,” “rather, what addicts them is the world-dissolving state of subjective suspension and affective calm they derive from machine play.”

Gamblers are closely tracked by the casino industry. The length of time gamblers spend on machines increases the profits for the casino. The science of keeping people in front of slot machines—called “time on device” within the industry—has led to the creation of ergonomic consoles, the appealing, warm screens on slot machines, seductive video graphics and surround-sound acoustics.

The industry also invests heavily in surveillance. Gamblers carry player or loyalty cards. They insert these cards into the slot machines when they play. These cards, linked to a central database, are used by the industry to build profiles of gamblers. The value and frequency of bets are captured, along with wins and losses. The industry knows when the players take breaks, where and what they eat in the casinos, what they drink and what hotel rooms they select. Slowly the traits and the habits of the gambler, triangulated with demographic data, are pieced together to allow the industry to build a personal profile. With the profile, the casino determines at what point a player will accumulate too many losses and too much pain and is about to walk away from a machine. A few moments before that pain level is reached, a hostess will magically appear with a free drink, a voucher for a meal or tickets to a show. Casinos can also use profiles to project how much a player will spend gambling during his or her lifetime.

The industry was the human laboratory for refinements now incorporated into the security and surveillance organs of the state. “Many surveillance and marketing innovations first used in casinos were only later adapted to other domains,” Schüll writes, “including airports, financial trading floors, consumer shopping malls, insurance agencies, banks, and government programs like Homeland Security.”

“They have an algorithm that senses your pain points, your sweet spots,” Schüll told me. “The zone is a term that I kept hearing over and over again as I went to gamblers’ anonymous meetings and spoke to gambling addicts. This really describes a state of flow where time, space, monetary value and other people fall away. You might say a state of flow, or the zone, sounds very different from the thrills and suspense of gambling. But what the casinos have hit upon is that [they] actually make more money when [they] design a flow space into these machines. People don’t even know that they’re losing. They just sit there. Again, it’s time on machines.”

“When you look at contemporary slot machines, they don’t operate on volatility,” she continued. “One designer of the mathematics and algorithm of these games said we want an algorithm that makes you feel like you are reclining on a couch. The curves, architecture and the softly pixelated lights, they want you to sit back and go with the flow. I just couldn’t make sense of that for the longest time in my research. Gamblers would say, ‘It’s so weird, but sometimes when I win a big jackpot I feel angry and frustrated.’ What they’re playing for is not to win, but to stay in the zone. Winning disrupts that because suddenly the machine is frozen, it’s not letting you keep going. What are you going to do with that winning anyway? You’re just going to feed it back into the machines. This is more about mood modulation. Affect modulation. Using technologies to dampen anxieties and exit the world. We don’t just see it in Las Vegas. We see it in the subways every morning. The rise of all of these screen-based technologies and the little games that we’ve all become so absorbed in. What gamblers articulate is a desire to really lose a sense of self. They lose time, space, money value, and a sense of being in the world. What is that about? What does that say? How do we diagnose that?”

“It’s the flip side to the incredible pressure, which is experienced as a burden, to self-manage, to make choices, to always be maximizing as you’re living life in this entrepreneurial mode,” she said. “We talk about this as the subjective side of the neoliberal agenda, where pressure is put on individuals to regulate themselves. In this case, they are regulating themselves, but they are regulating themselves away from that. This really is a mode of escape. It’s not action gambling. This is escape gambling. You can see it on their faces. The consequences and ethics are distasteful. It’s predatory. It’s predation on a type of escape where people are driven to exit the world. They’re not trying to win. The casinos are trying to win. They are trying to make revenue. They’re kind of in a partnership with the gamblers, but it’s a very asymmetrical partnership. The gamblers don’t want to win. They want to just keep going. Some people have likened gamblers to factory workers who are alienated by the machine. I don’t see it that way. This is more about machines designed to synchronize with what you want—in this case escape—and [to] profit from that.”



Trump understands this longing for escape and the art of creating an updated version of P.T. Barnum’s “Grand Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan & Hippodrome.” Trump used his skills as a con artist to pull in hundreds of millions of dollars and then to achieve the presidency.

“People have called it a mode of ludo-capitalism,” Schüll said. “In a way, you can connect that to the ludo-politics that we see. Pleasure. To get what you want. What you want is to escape into a flow, to be taken away. We see this in the political domain a lot—in the rallies, in the surging of feelings, the distraction. If you look at the way a casino is designed, and you remember that Trump is a designer of many casinos, including his non-casino properties, they follow the same design logic of disorientation and trying to sweep people away from themselves, away from rationality, away from a position where they have clear lines of sight and can act as decision-making subjects. You see that on the floors of casinos, you see that in political rhetoric today.”

The corporate state will expand our access to a variety of opioids and numbing situations to temporarily alleviate our stress, financial dislocations, depression and anxiety. Aided by state and local governments, it will build new pleasure palaces. It will lure millions into its glittering and seductive Venus’ flytraps. It will make sure we have tempting retreats within easy reach to achieve a death-in-life experience. Much of the society will be put to sleep. Those who refuse to become zombies, who rise up to resist, who seek at all costs to remain distinct individuals, will be silenced with the corporate state’s cruder tool for submission: force.



(from @Truthdig) / We Resist!

The Ugly Numbers of Trauma, Exile and Death Caused by U.S. Wars and Interventions in the Past 75 Years /

29 Mar


This essay is adapted from “Measuring Violence,” the first chapter of John Dower’s new book, The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War Two.

Source: The Ugly Numbers of Trauma, Exile and Death Caused by U.S. Wars and Interventions in the Past 75 Years | Alternet

On February 17, 1941, almost 10 months before Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, Life magazine carried a lengthy essay by its publisher, Henry Luce, entitled “The American Century.” The son of Presbyterian missionaries, born in China in 1898 and raised there until the age of 15, Luce essentially transposed the certainty of religious dogma into the certainty of a nationalistic mission couched in the name of internationalism.

Luce acknowledged that the United States could not police the whole world or attempt to impose democratic institutions on all of mankind. Nonetheless, “the world of the 20th Century,” he wrote, “if it is to come to life in any nobility of health and vigor, must be to a significant degree an American Century.” The essay called on all Americans “to accept wholeheartedly our duty and our opportunity as the most powerful and vital nation in the world and in consequence to exert upon the world the full impact of our influence, for such purposes as we see fit and by such measures as we see fit.”

Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor propelled the United States wholeheartedly onto the international stage Luce believed it was destined to dominate, and the ringing title of his cri de coeur became a staple of patriotic Cold War and post-Cold War rhetoric. Central to this appeal was the affirmation of a virtuous calling. Luce’s essay singled out almost every professed ideal that would become a staple of wartime and Cold War propaganda: freedom, democracy, equality of opportunity, self-reliance and independence, cooperation, justice, charity—all coupled with a vision of economic abundance inspired by “our magnificent industrial products, our technical skills.” In present-day patriotic incantations, this is referred to as “American exceptionalism.”

The other, harder side of America’s manifest destiny was, of course, muscularity. Power. Possessing absolute and never-ending superiority in developing and deploying the world’s most advanced and destructive arsenal of war. Luce did not dwell on this dimension of “internationalism” in his famous essay, but once the world war had been entered and won, he became its fervent apostle—an outspoken advocate of “liberating” China from its new communist rulers, taking over from the beleaguered French colonial military in Vietnam, turning both the Korean and Vietnam conflicts from “limited wars” into opportunities for a wider virtuous war against and in China, and pursuing the rollback of the Iron Curtain with “tactical atomic weapons.” As Luce’s incisive biographer Alan Brinkley documents, at one point Luce even mulled the possibility of “plastering Russia with 500 (or 1,000) A bombs”—a terrifying scenario, but one that the keepers of the U.S. nuclear arsenal actually mapped out in expansive and appalling detail in the 1950s and 1960s, before Luce’s death in 1967.

The “American Century” catchphrase is hyperbole, the slogan never more than a myth, a fantasy, a delusion. Military victory in any traditional sense was largely a chimera after World War II. The so-called Pax Americana itself was riddled with conflict and oppression and egregious betrayals of the professed catechism of American values. At the same time, post war U.S. hegemony obviously never extended to more than a portion of the globe. Much that took place in the world, including disorder and mayhem, was beyond America’s control.

Yet, not unreasonably, Luce’s catchphrase persists. The twenty-first-century world may be chaotic, with violence erupting from innumerable sources and causes, but the United States does remain the planet’s “sole superpower.” The myth of exceptionalism still holds most Americans in its thrall. U.S. hegemony, however frayed at the edges, continues to be taken for granted in ruling circles, and not only in Washington. And Pentagon planners still emphatically define their mission as “full-spectrum dominance” globally.

Washington’s commitment to modernizing its nuclear arsenal rather than focusing on achieving the thoroughgoing abolition of nuclear weapons has proven unshakable. So has the country’s almost religious devotion to leading the way in developing and deploying ever more “smart” and sophisticated conventional weapons of mass destruction.

Welcome to Henry Luce’s—and America’s—violent century, even if thus far it’s lasted only 75 years. The question is just what to make of it these days.



Counting the Dead

We live in times of bewildering violence. In 2013, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told a Senate committee that the world is “more dangerous than it has ever been.” Statisticians, however, tell a different story: that war and lethal conflict have declined steadily, significantly, even precipitously since World War II.

Much mainstream scholarship now endorses the declinists. In his influential 2011 book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker adopted the labels “the Long Peace” for the four-plus decades of the Cold War (1945-1991), and “the New Peace” for the post-Cold War years to the present. In that book, as well as in post-publication articles, postings, and interviews, he has taken the doomsayers to task. The statistics suggest, he declares, that “today we may be living in the most peaceable era in our species’s existence.”

Clearly, the number and deadliness of global conflicts have indeed declined since World War II. This so-called postwar peace was, and still is, however, saturated in blood and wracked with suffering.

It is reasonable to argue that total war-related fatalities during the Cold War decades were lower than in the six years of World War II (1939–1945) and certainly far less than the toll for the twentieth century’s two world wars combined. It is also undeniable that overall death tolls have declined further since then. The five most devastating intrastate or interstate conflicts of the postwar decades—in China, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and between Iran and Iraq—took place during the Cold War. So did a majority of the most deadly politicides, or political mass killings, and genocides: in the Soviet Union, China (again), Yugoslavia, North Korea, North Vietnam, Sudan, Nigeria, Indonesia, Pakistan/Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Angola, Mozambique, and Cambodia, among other countries. The end of the Cold War certainly did not signal the end of such atrocities (as witness Rwanda, the Congo, and the implosion of Syria). As with major wars, however, the trajectory has been downward.

Unsurprisingly, the declinist argument celebrates the Cold War as less violent than the global conflicts that preceded it, and the decades that followed as statistically less violent than the Cold War. But what motivates the sanitizing of these years, now amounting to three-quarters of a century, with the label “peace”? The answer lies largely in a fixation on major powers. The great Cold War antagonists, the United States and the Soviet Union, bristling with their nuclear arsenals, never came to blows. Indeed, wars between major powers or developed states have become (in Pinker’s words) “all but obsolete.” There has been no World War III, nor is there likely to be.

Such upbeat quantification invites complacent forms of self-congratulation. (How comparatively virtuous we mortals have become!) In the United States, where we-won-the-Cold-War sentiment still runs strong, the relative decline in global violence after 1945 is commonly attributed to the wisdom, virtue, and firepower of U.S. “peacekeeping.” In hawkish circles, nuclear deterrence—the Cold War’s MAD (mutually assured destruction) doctrine that was described early on as a “delicate balance of terror”—is still canonized as an enlightened policy that prevented catastrophic global conflict.



Terror Counts and Terror Fears

Largely unmeasurable, too, is violence in a different register: the damage that war, conflict, militarization, and plain existential fear inflict upon civil society and democratic practice. This is true everywhere but has been especially conspicuous in the United States since Washington launched its “global war on terror” in response to the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Here, numbers are perversely provocative, for the lives claimed in twenty-first-century terrorist incidents can be interpreted as confirming the decline-in-violence argument. From 2000 through 2014, according to the widely cited Global Terrorism Index, “more than 61,000 incidents of terrorism claiming over 140,000 lives have been recorded.” Including September 11th, countries in the West experienced less than 5% of these incidents and 3% of the deaths. The Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism, another minutely documented tabulation based on combing global media reports in many languages, puts the number of suicide bombings from 2000 through 2015 at 4,787 attacks in more than 40 countries, resulting in 47,274 deaths.

These atrocities are incontestably horrendous and alarming. Grim as they are, however, the numbers themselves are comparatively low when set against earlier conflicts. For specialists in World War II, the “140,000 lives” estimate carries an almost eerie resonance, since this is the rough figure usually accepted for the death toll from a single act of terror bombing, the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The tally is also low compared to contemporary deaths from other causes. Globally, for example, more than 400,000 people are murdered annually. In the United States, the danger of being killed by falling objects or lightning is at least as great as the threat from Islamist militants.

This leaves us with a perplexing question: If the overall incidence of violence, including twenty-first-century terrorism, is relatively low compared to earlier global threats and conflicts, why has the United States responded by becoming an increasingly militarized, secretive, unaccountable, and intrusive “national security state”? Is it really possible that a patchwork of non-state adversaries that do not possess massive firepower or follow traditional rules of engagement has, as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff declared in 2013, made the world more threatening than ever?

For those who do not believe this to be the case, possible explanations for the accelerating militarization of the United States come from many directions. Paranoia may be part of the American DNA—or, indeed, hardwired into the human species. Or perhaps the anticommunist hysteria of the Cold War simply metastasized into a post-9/11 pathological fear of terrorism. Machiavellian fear-mongering certainly enters the picture, led by conservative and neoconservative civilian and military officials of the national security state, along with opportunistic politicians and war profiteers of the usual sort. Cultural critics predictably point an accusing finger as well at the mass media’s addiction to sensationalism and catastrophe, now intensified by the proliferation of digital social media.

To all this must be added the peculiar psychological burden of being a “superpower” and, from the 1990s on, the planet’s “sole superpower”—a situation in which “credibility” is measured mainly in terms of massive cutting-edge military might. It might be argued that this mindset helped “contain Communism” during the Cold War and provides a sense of security to U.S. allies. What it has not done is ensure victory in actual war, although not for want of trying. With some exceptions (Grenada, Panama, the brief 1991 Gulf War, and the Balkans), the U.S. military has not tasted victory since World War II—Korea, Vietnam, and recent and current conflicts in the Greater Middle East being boldface examples of this failure. This, however, has had no impact on the hubris attached to superpower status. Brute force remains the ultimate measure of credibility.

The traditional American way of war has tended to emphasize the “three Ds” (defeat, destroy, devastate). Since 1996, the Pentagon’s proclaimed mission is to maintain “full-spectrum dominance” in every domain (land, sea, air, space, and information) and, in practice, in every accessible part of the world. The Air Force Global Strike Command, activated in 2009 and responsible for managing two-thirds of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, typically publicizes its readiness for “Global Strike… Any Target, Any Time.”

In 2015, the Department of Defense acknowledged maintaining 4,855 physical “sites”—meaning bases ranging in size from huge contained communities to tiny installations—of which 587 were located overseas in 42 foreign countries. An unofficial investigation that includes small and sometimes impermanent facilities puts the number at around 800 in 80 countries. Over the course of 2015, to cite yet another example of the overwhelming nature of America’s global presence, elite U.S. special operations forces were deployed to around 150 countries, and Washington provided assistance in arming and training security forces in an even larger number of nations.

America’s overseas bases reflect, in part, an enduring inheritance from World War II and the Korean War. The majority of these sites are located in Germany (181), Japan (122), and South Korea (83) and were retained after their original mission of containing communism disappeared with the end of the Cold War. Deployment of elite special operations forces is also a Cold War legacy (exemplified most famously by the Army’s “Green Berets” in Vietnam) that expanded after the demise of the Soviet Union. Dispatching covert missions to three-quarters of the world’s nations, however, is largely a product of the war on terror.

Many of these present-day undertakings require maintaining overseas “lily pad” facilities that are small, temporary, and unpublicized. And many, moreover, are integrated with covert CIA “black operations.” Combating terror involves practicing terror—including, since 2002, an expanding campaign of targeted assassinations by unmanned drones. For the moment, this latest mode of killing remains dominated by the CIA and the U.S. military (with the United Kingdom and Israel following some distance behind).



Counting Nukes

The “delicate balance of terror” that characterized nuclear strategy during the Cold War has not disappeared. Rather, it has been reconfigured. The U.S. and Soviet arsenals that reached a peak of insanity in the 1980s have been reduced by about two-thirds—a praiseworthy accomplishment but one that still leaves the world with around 15,400 nuclear weapons as of January 2016, 93% of them in U.S. and Russian hands. Close to two thousand of the latter on each side are still actively deployed on missiles or at bases with operational forces.

This downsizing, in other words, has not removed the wherewithal to destroy the Earth as we know it many times over. Such destruction could come about indirectly as well as directly, with even a relatively “modest” nuclear exchange between, say, India and Pakistan triggering a cataclysmic climate shift—a “nuclear winter”—that could result in massive global starvation and death. Nor does the fact that seven additional nations now possess nuclear weapons (and more than 40 others are deemed “nuclear weapons capable”) mean that “deterrence” has been enhanced. The future use of nuclear weapons, whether by deliberate decision or by accident, remains an ominous possibility. That threat is intensified by the possibility that nonstate terrorists may somehow obtain and use nuclear devices.

What is striking at this moment in history is that paranoia couched as strategic realism continues to guide U.S. nuclear policy and, following America’s lead, that of the other nuclear powers. As announced by the Obama administration in 2014, the potential for nuclear violence is to be “modernized.” In concrete terms, this translates as a 30-year project that will cost the United States an estimated $1 trillion (not including the usual future cost overruns for producing such weapons), perfect a new arsenal of “smart” and smaller nuclear weapons, and extensively refurbish the existing delivery “triad” of long-range manned bombers, nuclear-armed submarines, and land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles carrying nuclear warheads.

Nuclear modernization, of course, is but a small portion of the full spectrum of American might—a military machine so massive that it inspired President Obama to speak with unusual emphasis in his State of the Union address in January 2016. “The United States of America is the most powerful nation on Earth,” he declared. “Period. Period. It’s not even close. It’s not even close. It’s not even close. We spend more on our military than the next eight nations combined.”

Official budgetary expenditures and projections provide a snapshot of this enormous military machine, but here again numbers can be misleading. Thus, the “base budget” for defense announced in early 2016 for fiscal year 2017 amounts to roughly $600 billion, but this falls far short of what the actual outlay will be. When all other discretionary military- and defense-related costs are taken into account—nuclear maintenance and modernization, the “war budget” that pays for so-called overseas contingency operations like military engagements in the Greater Middle East, “black budgets” that fund intelligence operations by agencies including the CIA and the National Security Agency, appropriations for secret high-tech military activities, “veterans affairs” costs (including disability payments), military aid to other countries, huge interest costs on the military-related part of the national debt, and so on—the actual total annual expenditure is close to $1 trillion.

Such stratospheric numbers defy easy comprehension, but one does not need training in statistics to bring them closer to home. Simple arithmetic suffices. The projected bill for just the 30-year nuclear modernization agenda comes to over $90 million a day, or almost $4 million an hour. The $1 trillion price tag for maintaining the nation’s status as “the most powerful nation on Earth” for a single year amounts to roughly $2.74 billion a day, over $114 million an hour.

Creating a capacity for violence greater than the world has ever seen is costly—and remunerative.

So an era of a “new peace”? Think again. We’re only three quarters of the way through America’s violent century and there’s more to come.


John Dower is professor emeritus of history at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  He is the author of the National Book Critics Circle Award-winning War Without Mercy and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Embracing Defeat. His new book, The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War Two (Dispatch Books), has just been published. 


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