Replacing Liberal Timidity with Leftist Passion
by Phil Rockstroh
Why is it that self-termed progressives are in full retreat (and have been for decades) from the witless army of angry clowns and hack illusionists of the U.S. rightwing?
One contributing factor involves the sterile cultivation of the persona of the "reasonable liberal," a type favored and rewarded by the status quo-protective power brokers of the Democratic Party and by corporate media organizations that find useful his trait of rendering himself feckless (e.g., the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue) by the passion-annihilating (but self-serving) device of his preening amiability?
But in so doing, the self-gelded liberal has sacrificed libido and discarded sacred vehemence for careerist privilege. Worse, the rest of us are advised to follow suit…that, in order to gain credibility, one must slouch towards center-hugging irrelevance.
We are counseled that in order to navigate this age of corporate dominance that one's irascible apprehensions and unruly aspirations must be suppressed, for such passions are deemed too radical for mainstream sensibilities, and are therefore regarded as impractical as they are untoward by the crackpot realists of the corporate bottom line whose dictates dominate the political discourse and economic arrangements of our time.
“Prune down [a human being’s] extravagance, sober him, and you undo him.” --William James
Yet these self-termed "realists," by means of their ad hoc machinations and hidden-in-plain-sight schemes, are responsible for the creation, promotion and maintenance of a financial system (and its attendant economic, political and ecological consequences) that is as sound as the flight plan of Icarus.
When a nation displays this degree of a noxious mixture of mass ignorance and official mendacity, an age of peace and plenty becomes as possible as holding a tea dance in a tsunami.
Yet facing folly is difficult. Stunned by the implications of one’s mistakes and misapprehensions, initially, one will reel in the direction of a familiar road--or be seized by an impulse to retreat from the casuistry-sundering fury of the larger world. Yet, as Thomas Paine averred, "A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right." And as Albert Camus counseled, "Freedom is the right not to lie."
With this in mind, shall we blunder off-road into the landscape of unquestioned narratives?
For example, the following is a topic, when broached, that rarely fails to incur the manipulative rage of the perpetually adrenaline intoxicated right and causes liberals to drop to their knees in penance for sins never committed: The questioning of this culture’s reverential, unflagging "support of our troops" blunderbuss and attendant comic book hero-level palaver, such as, "all good Americans stand firm in our support of our troops and our war against the forces of international terrorism."
A bit of personal perspective as to why I demur: Forty-eight years ago, this month, four young girls were murdered in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham Ala. At the time of the tragedy, I was a child living in Birmingham. I remember the event to this day. My father, freelancing as a photojournalist at the time, arrived on the scene not long after the blast. I remember him coming home shaken and pale. The event is seared into my memory...how the blind hatred of the vicious can erupt into daily life and inflict irreparable harm and abiding sorrow.
Accordingly, this is why I can not abide U.S. wars of imperium e.g., its Shock and Awe bombing campaigns…the same modus operandi of those despicable, redneck bombers .
The dead of Iraq, Central Asia and Libya were no more responsible for committing acts of terrorism against the people of the U.S. than those little girls, readying for a choir performance in the basement of that church in Alabama, were guilty of any crime perpetrated against the "white race."
Moreover, the attacks staged on 9/11/2001 did not “change everything.” The event merely sped up the trajectory of the national security state/military industrial complex towards the landfill of history.
For more than a century, whether the propagandists of U.S. Empire promulgate the subterfuge…of fighting "to make the world safe for democracy" or defending against "the evil empire," or waging a “war on terror"--the objective remains, to secure resources for the U.S. homeland. And that is what we, the populace of empire, can "thank a veteran" for providing.
From the Blue Coats at Wounded Knee to the baby-faced tools of imperium at My Lai and Fallujah to the predator drones scouring Central Asia, the U.S. is the single largest perpetrator of terrorism worldwide. As all the while, guilty by their complicity citizens of the U.S. sit on their sofas, oblivious or unmoved by any event transpiring beyond their self-circumscribed field of reference. There should be a monument erected to the tragic legacy wrought by the acts of terrorism at "Ground Zero" -- and it should be a statue representing a willfully ignorant fat-ass sitting on his couch, TV remote in hand, Cheetos crumbs stippled in the folds of his mouth.
Granted, Lower Manhattan took a tragic hit, a decade ago, and many people suffered as a result (I know I live a couple of neighborhoods upwind) but none worse than the people of Iraq and Central Asia. Somehow, I suspected (and was proven sadly correct) that their experiences would not be evoked, as part of the 9/11 hagiography foisted and verbal monuments cast to sacred victimhood, as part of the official ceremony commemorating the event.
Moreover, not long after 9/11, an attack was launched from Lower Manhattan that collapsed the global economy. I, for one, would like to hear a bit more about that.
By parroting the self-serving hagiography of 9/11/01, as well as, "I support the warrior, but not the war" type fallacies, liberals continue to play right into the sustaining narratives of the national security state.
Case in point, the empty, oft-heard, liberal pundit assertion, "My idea for a 9/11 tribute would involve bringing our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan home, with proper benefits." Nonsense. Worse than nonsense: Precious, cloying, self-congratulatory piffle. The statement is axiomatic of the feckless calls and specious cries common to that species of walking cliché known as "troop-supporting" liberals.
As far as I'm concerned, "our troops"—human delivery systems of U.S. government sanctified terrorism--can walk home…that way, maybe, they might learn something about the larger world, other than their mission to kill the people they happen upon without question, and then share with their fellow belligerently ignorant countrymen what they learned about life (its sacred quality) on their long, Odysseusian journey home.
Apropos, reasonable liberals counsel such declarations serve as “bad public relation” tactics. “Don't you realize that you risk alienating Middle America? Remember, the reactionary fallout created by the radicalism of the 1960s?”
The fact is: The passionate questioning of the entire war effort in Southeast Asia, the role of soldiers included, helped to bring an end to the war and factored into the soldiers' rebellion at the later stages of the protracted conflict. In increasing numbers, the conscripts began to refuse to kill and die for a dubious cause...they went hippie on the ass of the military state.
The activist left ended the war; self-serving liberals blew the peace.
The "bad PR" involving "spitting on the troops" was after the fact, rightwing confabulation…promulgated to intimidate liberals into shamed silence, and, of course, liberals being liberals, it worked. True to form, they "distanced" themselves from the "troop-demoralizing radicals of the irrational left." In reality, they fled in fear from arrays of rightwing created strawmen.
PR itself is the dubious craft of professional lying--corporate era legerdemain. In fact, the craft is the opposite of the resonate truth carried by deepening poetry, poignant prose and challenging political speech--the near exclusive domain of the left in the 1960s.
You ask what makes me sigh, old friend
What makes me shudder so
I shudder and I sigh to think
That even Cicero
And many-minded Homer were
Mad as the mist and snow.
--William Bulter Yeats, except from Mad As The Mist And Snow
The inspired, enduring (very threatening to some) art, music and political action of the era were not the result of liberal accommodation and compromise. Antithetically, the cause of peace and justice (briefly) made some headway despite liberals not because of them.
As a famous literary drunk once quipped, "Rome wasn't burned in a day." Change will not come with a victim-centered view of the world...including viewing the nation's toxically innocent, economic conscripts as mere victims of circumstance. Yes, young people make stupid choices--but treating them as victims does not serve them or the nation well.
“Liberal compassion” should not be extended to countenancing acts of mass murderer. Time and time again, liberals play into rightist propaganda, by allowing the discussion of U.S. militarism to be framed as exclusively pertaining to the sacrifices of individual soldiers, whose fates, in the larger context of events, have been appropriated a device of imperial plunder. By truckling to this narrative, liberals play into the propaganda of those who prosper by the homicidal designs of the present day U.S. military state.
Instead, let us endeavor to disabuse the culture of the delusion that there exists noble sacrifice in the act of killing and dying for the agendas of empire. When an individual U.S. soldier begins to stagger in the direction of his own humanity (renouncing his complicity in the death-sustained system, as many did during the Vietnam era) then we should open our arms and embrace him with a fierce compassion.
On a personal basis, my family had little money. And I made many self-destructive choices, but I also had tenacious mentors who challenged me...called me on my destructive nonsense…pointing out the bulwark of denial and hubris that sustained its shabby, ad hoc structure. Making a home in being lost, I took up residence in the enduring structure of poetry, literature and music…Whitman, Kerouac, Rilke, Dylan, the Allman Brothers, Leonard Cohen, Iggy Pop, Joe Strummer, and others too numerous to name taught me to question, as the expression went, "everything."
This is not rocket science; this is far more important; this is the essential subject matter that informs the propulsion and guidance systems of the human heart. Withal, instruct the young how to build and inhabit the structure of a cogent argument and to navigate a soul-suffused landscape of poignant verse, lyric, and insight.
To do so, one must not shy away from confrontation. During the Civil Rights Movement and Vietnam War era, before the left was manipulated into fearing the libido borne of sacred vehemence, stupid opinions were not coddled; they were challenged.
Feelings were hurt. Egos were bruised. But an illegal war was shortened and a number of (long over due) rights were granted.
the bitter way to better prayer, we have
the sweetness of ripening. How sweet
to know you by the signs of this world!
--Wendel Berry, excerpt from “Ripening”
At present, among the things we can ill afford are fantasy prone kids, duped into believing modern soldiering bestows nobility and involves heroic sacrifice. Instead, the times call for brave misfits, encouraged to embrace rejection by a dysfunctional society and primed to endure the inherent bumps and buffeting inflicted from a culture that has gathered into the formation of a flying wedge of self-destructive, crash-fated crazy.
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