How to get people do the dirty work without turning them into monsters?

For years Slavoj Zizek has been faithful to the old maxim of cultural studies: watch a lot of television. But unlike most students of the art of cultural studies, Zizek gets good interpretations out of the tube. This time he's been watching the fifth season of the television drama '24' with the following outcomes reported in his Guardian column:

"24 should not be seen as a simple popular depiction of the sort of problematic methods the US resorts to in its "war on terror". Much more is at stake. Recall the lesson of Apocalypse Now. The figure of Kurtz is not a remnant of some barbaric past. He was the perfect soldier but, through his over-identification with the military, he turned into the embodiment of the system's excess and threatened the system itself.
The problem for those in power is how to get people do the dirty work without turning them into monsters. This was Heinrich Himmler's dilemma. When confronted with the task of killing the Jews of Europe, the SS chief adopted the attitude of "somebody has to do the dirty job". In Hannah Arendt's book, Eichmann in Jerusalem, the philosopher describes how Nazi executioners endured the horrible acts they performed. Most were well aware that they were doing things that brought humiliation, suffering and death to their victims. The way out of this predicament was that, instead of saying "What horrible things I did to people!" they would say "What horrible things I had to watch in the pursuance of my duties, how heavily the task weighed upon my shoulders!" In this way, they were able to turn around the logic of resisting temptation: the temptation to be resisted was pity and sympathy in the presence of human suffering, the temptation not to murder, torture and humiliate.
There was a further "ethical problem" for Himmler: how to make sure that the executioners, while performing these terrible acts, remained human and dignified. His answer was Krishna's message to Arjuna in the Bhagavad-Gita (Himmler always had in his pocket a leather-bound edition): act with inner distance; do not get fully involved.
Therein also resides the lie of 24: that it is not only possible to retain human dignity in performing acts of terror, but that if an honest person performs such an act as a grave duty, it confers on him a tragic-ethical grandeur. The parallel between the agents' and the terrorists' behaviour serves this lie.
But what if such a distance is possible? What if people do commit terrible acts as part of their job while being loving husbands, good parents and close friends? As Arendt says, the fact that they are able to retain any normality while committing such acts is the ultimate confirmation of moral depravity.
So what about the response to this hair-splitting? Some argue that at least the US is now more open and less hypocritical about its behaviour towards terrorist suspects. To this, one should reply: "If US representatives mean only this, why are they telling us? Why don't they silently go on doing it, as they did it until now?" What is proper to human speech is the gap between the enunciated content and its act of enunciation. Imagine a couple who have a tacit agreement that they can have discreet extramarital affairs; if, all of a sudden, the husband openly tells his wife about an affair, she would have good reason to wonder why he was telling her. The act of publicly revealing something is never neutral; it affects the reported content itself.
The same goes for the US's recent admission that it is using torture. When we hear people such as Dick Cheney making statements about the necessity of torture, we should ask ourselves why he has decided to make a public statement about it. The question to be raised is: what is there in this statement that made the speaker decide to enunciate it? This is 24's real problem: not the content itself but the fact that we are being told openly about it. And that is a sad indication of a deep change in our ethical and political standards."


Chomsky's Position

Noam Chomsky connects himself overtly to the Enlightment, namely to "the left libertarian tradition" consisting such figures as progressive liberal John Dewey (whose educational books "Democracy and Education" and "Experience and Education" are yet to be translated in
Finnish!), independent socialist & philosopher Bertnard Russell, and the leading elements of the Marxist mainstream (mostly anti-Bolshevik), and, of course, libertarian socialist of various anarchist movements, not to speak of major parts of the labor movement and other popular sector.

It is worth to note, how Chomsky in his Democracy and Education connects the philosophical questions of empiricism (manifestated as a postulation of ‘empty organism’) versus rationalism (manifestated as a postulation of ‘innately creative organism’) to the issues of politics, moral judgment, and human freedom. He refers Ellen Wood, who, in turn, goes to Kant’s critique of empiricism, and interprets it as not only an epistemological quibble but also “a far-reaching argument about the nature of human freedom.” Thus, from the point of social choices, human freedom, and ultimately, reasonable society at large, it is not unimportant “whether the human mind is ‘a responsive cog in the mechanism of nature,’ as in empiricist doctrine, or ‘a creative, determinative force.’" (Otero 2003, 10.)


A Strange Feature of Our Times

Why are women paid less than men? What is the significance of bloggers, or of the World Social Forum? Or why are right-wingers gaining momentum at the same time as economical, social, educational & cultural divisions of the poor and the rich are growing? - These question are asked by sociologist Geoff Mulgan in his Prospect article. And he goes on as follows:

"One of the strange features of our times is that well-educated people can get by with very little idea of how to answer questions like these. Over the last few decades, we have witnessed great progress in the public's level of scientific understanding, thanks to many brilliant expositors. In history, too, some of the most original minds are also first rate communicators. Much of economics has permeated into common sense, particularly of decision-makers around the world. But sociology has faded from view. Its heyday a generation ago feels like another era. As a result, many people rely on very simple interpretive frameworks to make sense of what they see around them or on the evening news. So conflicts between Muslims and Christians are attributed to culture or history. Gender pay gaps are seen as the result of misogyny. The internet is ascribed with magical powers to turn the tables on multinational corporations or governments."

The above image is designed by Ricardo Levins Morales who's part of Northland Poster Collective in Minneapolis.

Not a Bad Idea

Just got off from Bruce Springsteen & The Seeger Sessions Band We Shall Overcome Concert. It was great to see craftsmanship in practice; almost in the sense Richard Sennett defines it in his The Culture of the New Capitalism: "doing something well for its own sake." From www.backstreets.com's discussions, a website dedicated to the Boss, I found "A JrsyGrl 04" comment which has nothing to do with tonight's music:

You should die first, start out dead and get it out of the way.
Then you wake up in a nursing home, feeling better every day.
You get kicked out for being too healthy, go collect your pension.
When you start work, you get a gold watch on your first day. You work 40 years
until you're young enough to enjoy your retirement.
You drink alcohol, you party, you're generally promiscuous and you get ready
for High School.
You go to primary school, you become a kid, you play, you have no
responsibilities, you become a baby.
Then, you spend your last 9 months floating
peacefully with luxuries like central heating, spa room service on tap, larger
quarter's everyday.
And finally you finish off as an orgasm.

When you feel like it, go to www.brucespringsteen.net/site.html, there's some music.


Random Act of Maturity

On June 8 2006 CNN's Soledad O'Brien interviewed Michael Berg, father of Nick Berg, who's videoed beheading was attributed to al-Zarqawi.

O'BRIEN: Mr. Berg, thank you for talking with us again. It's nice to have an opportunity to talk to you. Of course, I'm curious to know your reaction, as it is now confirmed that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the man who is widely credited and blamed for killing your son, Nicholas, is dead.

MICHAEL BERG: Well, my reaction is I'm sorry whenever any human being dies. Zarqawi is a human being. He has a family who are reacting just as my family reacted when Nick was killed, and I feel bad for that. I feel doubly bad, though, because Zarqawi is also a political figure, and his death will re-ignite yet another wave of revenge, and revenge is something that I do not follow, that I do want ask for, that I do not wish for against anybody. And it can't end the cycle. As long as people use violence to combat violence, we will always have violence.

O'BRIEN: I have to say, sir, I'm surprised. I know how devastated you and your family were, frankly, when Nick was killed in such a horrible, and brutal and public way.

BERG: Well, you shouldn't be surprised, because I have never indicated anything but forgiveness and peace in any interview on the air.

O'BRIEN: No, no. And we have spoken before, and I'm well aware of that. But at some point, one would think, is there a moment when you say, 'I'm glad he's dead, the man who killed my son'?

BERG: No. How can a human being be glad that another human being is dead? [...] Now, take someone who in 1991, who maybe had their family killed by an American bomb, their support system whisked away from them, someone who, instead of being 59, as I was when Nick died, was 5-years-old or 10-years-old. And then if I were that person, might I not learn how to fly a plane into a building or strap a bag of bombs to my back? That's what is happening every time we kill an Iraqi, every time we kill anyone, we are creating a large number of people who are going to want vengeance. And, you know, when are we ever going to learn that that doesn't work? [...]

O'BRIEN: There's a theory that a struggle for democracy, you know...

BERG: Democracy? Come on, you can't really believe that that's a democracy there when the people who are running the elections are holding guns. That's not democracy.


Interestingly, there are no transcripts available on CNN's website for the June 8th edition of America Morning. It goes right from June 7th to June 9th.


It's a long way from killing to democracy

Today the world’s press went nuts on Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's death by U.S. air strike. Rumsfeld hailed his death, and Bush, sharp as always, said that al-Zarqawi wouldn’t kill anymore. But when will our smirking chimp and his British ally stop murdering? Not in the near future, for “we” cannot rest in "our" war on terror. “We” cannot think that terrorists would rest. “We” need to know that they will continue to kill, and ”we” need to know that they are many. Thus ”we” need to be clear in our mission and let them know that our determination to defeat them is total. - We do live dubious, fascists times. And, if something, we the people need to know that we need to be afraid of our leaders who celebrate death, for from there it’s a long way to democracy, it’s a long way from home.


Hope, Anger & Courage

Radical adult educator Michael Newman writes extensively about anger in his book Teaching Defiance; distincting it from dismay and frustaration, and how to focus and use anger creatively, or what's the difference between anger and rage? But he does not mention St. Augustine to whom the following quote is attributed: "Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are."


Workers and Intellectuals

Said St. Foucault: "The workers don't need intellectuals to tell them what they are doing; they know perfectly well what they are doing. In my view, the intellectual is the guy who is plugged in to the information network, not the production network. He can make his voice heard. He can write in the newspapers, give his point of view. He is also plugged into an older information network. He has the knowledge acquired by reading a certain number of books, knowledge which other people do not have at their direct disposal. His role is therefore not to shape a working-class consciousness, as that consciousness already exists, but to allow that consciousness, that working class knowledge, to enter the information system (...) The intellectual's knowledge is always partial compared to working-class knowledge. What we know about the history of French society is very partial, compared to the massive experience that the working class has." (In Macey, David, The Lives of Michel Foucault, 1993, pp. 317-18)


Osama Bin Laden Teaches Bush a Lesson

This quote is from Osama Bin Laden's speech released by the pan-Arab TV station al-Jazeera on May 19: "If Bush declines but to continue lying and practicing injustice [against us], it is useful for you to read the book of "The Rogue State" (by William Blum, my addition), the introduction of which reads: 'If I were a president, I would halt the operations against the United States. First, I will extend my apologies to the widows, orphans, and the persons who were tortured. Afterwards, I will announce that the US interference in the world's countries has ended for ever.' ... Finally, I would like to tell you that the war is for you or for us to win. If we win it, it means your defeat and disgrace forever as the wind blows in this direction with God's help. If you win it, you should read the history. We are a nation that does not tolerate injustice and seek revenge forever. Days and nights will not go by until we take revenge as we did on 11 September, God willing, and until your minds are exhausted and your lives become miserable and things turn [for the worse], which you detest. As for us, we do not have anything to lose. The swimmer in the sea does not fear rain. You have occupied our land, defiled our honour, violated our dignity, shed our blood, ransacked our money, demolished our houses, rendered us homeless, and tampered with our security. We will treat you in the same way." ... Read the full text news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/4628932.stm