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A Feeling of Despair

madamab's picture

[Welcome Confluence readers! -- Lambert]

Sorry folks, there is no activism today. I'm still processing my feelings about the shocking developments of last Sunday evening.

What I've ultimately settled upon, after my initial excitement has faded, is a feeling of despair.

What has happened to my country? Didn't we used to be proud of our Constitution? Didn't we used to think we were exceptional not because we killed more people than anyone else (our troops are the best in the world! USA! USA!), but because we didn't treat terrorists and criminals with the lawlessness they had shown to us? Wasn't the Unabomber, Ted Kaczyinski, tried and convicted? Wasn't the blind sheik, Omar Abdel-Rahman, tried and convicted after he attempted to destroy the World Trade Center? Didn't this due process make us all feel good after the murder and mayhem they perpetrated upon us? Didn't our consciences tell us we had, indeed, obeyed our laws and lived in accordance with our own preference for justice over brutal Bronze Age morality?

No more. The Feelings Police have spoken. No "decent" person could possibly do anything but celebrate Osama bin Laden's death. Bullying, swearing and shouting will be doled out to anyone who dares say otherwise. As usual on the Internets, the loudest, least reasonable voices prevail. And so, mindless expressions of unadulterated joy are the plat du jour. It's revolting to me.

How did this happen? I believe our new and NOT improved attitude towards the rule of law comes from the top. For the past ten years, Bush II and Obama (Bush III) have killed and tortured with utter impunity. They have perpetrated wars for oil and minerals, and have kept the American public so confused with endless streams of conflicting propaganda that we don't know what to think about any of it. One thing we know is that, as Rumsfeld famously stated, "there are known unknowns" which are a source of pain, doubt and fear for those of us refusing to be enveloped in nationalistic fervor. For example, we know that we have no idea what really happened to Osama bin Laden, the perpetrator of the event that Bush/Cheney/Obama have used as a bludgeon to coarsen and weaken the fiber of American morality.

Yesterday, it was widely reported that bin Laden "resisted" his capture and "engaged in a firefight" with U.S. forces (leaving most people, including me, to say that his killing was legally justified because he was using force). It was also repeatedly claimed that bin Laden used a women -- his wife -- has a human shield to protect himself, and that she was killed as a result. That image -- of a cowardly through violent-to-the-end bin Laden -- framed virtually every media narrative of the event all over the globe. And it came from many government officials, principally Obama's top counter-terrorism adviser, John Brennan.

Those claims have turned out to be utterly false. From TPM today:

It was a fitting end for the America's most wanted man. As President Barack Obama's Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan told it, a cowardly Osama bin Laden used his own wife as a human shield in his final moments. Except that apparently wasn't what happened at all.

Hours later, other administration officials were clarifying Brennan's account. Turns out the woman that was killed on the compound wasn't bin Laden's wife. Bin Laden may have not even been using a human shield. And he might not have even been holding a gun.

Politico's Josh Gerstein adds: "The White House backed away Monday evening from key details in its narrative about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, including claims by senior U.S. officials that the Al Qaeda leader had a weapon and may have fired it during a gun battle with U.S. forces." Gerstein added: "a senior White House official said bin Laden was not armed when he was killed."

We can choose to believe the official story - that he was killed and buried at sea - or we can choose not to; but we will most likely never find out the truth. And that's what's making me despair: the idea that seminal events that unfold in our country are constantly obscured, massaged and outright manufactured so as to rob them of any joy or justice.

There are so many things that I could have been happy about in the past ten years, had I simply allowed myself to stop thinking and just go with today's Two-Minute Hate. I can't do that, though. I am cursed with the inability to become so seduced by emotion that I become blinded to obvious facts. I didn't cheer when we illegally invaded Iraq. I didn't get excited by Saddam Hussein's capture, fake trial or barbaric execution. I didn't think the economy was "recovering" while tax cuts and war spending eroded our hard-won surplus at the speed of light and jobs streamed overseas at a frightening rate. I don't think old people, unions and women are the reason unemployment is sky-high. My joy at seeing the first black President elected was robbed from me because of the way the Democrats did it, and because I knew who he was (Bush III) and how he would govern (Bush III).

If Osama bin Laden was killed on Sunday (the day was so important that Obama only got in 9 holes of golf instead of 18!!!111!!!) and buried at sea (:roll:), then I take no joy in it. I disagree fervently with both Obama and Secretary Clinton: Killing a man in cold blood is not justice. It is "eye for an eye" revenge, one of the concepts enlightened human beings are supposed to understand is morally wrong. What happened to that understanding?

What a triumph it would have been to take bin Laden out of that compound in Pakistan and try him in the Hague; to see his smug, arrogant face humbled by being forced to wear the orange jumpsuit and chains of the common criminal. Had we chosen that route, we would have shown him, and the rest of the world, that we are still Americans. We still believe in the rule of law and the Constitution. We had been going down so far down the road of lawlessness that we almost lost ourselves; but when the ultimate test came, we redeemed ourselves by taking the road less traveled - the road of morality and justice. How lovely that would have been, and how fiercely I would have cheered the attorneys prosecuting that monster in open court. Surely the evidence against him must be overwhelming, or we wouldn't have been trying to kill him for the past 10 years...right? Right?

Perhaps what makes me despair the most is that Osama bin Laden's death at the hands of Dear Leader will be the new 9/11. It will be used to justify every lawless practice that still makes people uncomfortable and outraged when they think about it. Our war in Afghanistan - it worked! Our torture of Gitmo detainees provided the intellience that led to the assasination of Osama bin Laden! Our drones flying over Pock-ee-ston - they worked! So the government is spying on us, and has declared its ability to kill US citizens at the pleasure of the President, and is imprisoning and torturing whistleblowers like Bradley Manning instead of honoring them. So the Christian Taliban has decided to use the government to prosecute a war on America's women, and the Democrats refuse to stop them (in fact, the House is voting on the dreaded H.R. 3, aka Smith-Lipinski, this week). So what? Obama killed Osama bin Laden!!!!1111!!! Who's next? USA! USA!

I hope that one day, our country will regain its moral center again; but right now, I just want to weep and wail like a woman from the Bronze Age...which is where it seems our country is headed these days.

No votes yet


Submitted by gob on

No, I don't think the national orgy of blood-lusty number-one-ism reflects a new development. This has always been there. If there's something new, I think you've put your finger on it: it's the shamelessness at the top level.

Submitted by jawbone on

for both the executive and the nation. Same for regime change.

No longer.

Now, as noted above, it is claimed as a sign of strength of the Dear Leader.

So, in one way, we're actually being more transparent. Obama did say he wanted to have the most transparent administration....

What we're being "transparent" about is quite another thing -- and most undesirable.

Mostly the same objectives, just now out in the open. And our government is run by the monied interests to a greated extent, which is not explicitly acknowledged (except occasionally, such as Durbin saying the banks own Congress).

Will we get our Constitution back? Get our government to represent the rest of us non-monied? Not with the two legacy parties running things, Changing who gets elected is going to be very difficult -- and the Supremes work for the monied class, along with the legislative and executive branches. A triumvirate, not three separate but equal branches.

Submitted by JuliaWilliams on

"asymmetric" warfare. A cursory examination of our history (although not so different from European history) will show our bloody and diseased footprints over every foot of our land (see Howard Zinn "A People's History of the United States"). Our government has been lying to us from its inception, and some great examples in more recent times are the Hawaiian "ocupation"-still extant, the Philippine-American war (the event that made Mark Twain a rabid anti-imperialist), the "sinking of the Maine", more recently, the"gulf of Tonkin", and those are just some of the ones we know about. Pacifists and anti-war activists have been the recipients of some of the most draconian actions of our government (Manning, anyone?) throughout history. We are the inheritors of an imperialist history, imperialist regime, and imperialist (capitalist) economy. This is unsustainable, we know it, our MOTU know it, (they think they can "game it" just like they've gamed every other facet of their lives, as their parents, grandparents, etc., have), and all we can do is continue to fight the darkness, so that when we lie down for our last rest, we can say "at least I fought back".
In 1948, George Orwell wrote "1984", and I see his predictions writ large every time I see/hear/read the "news", (from Wikipedia):
"Life in the Oceanian province of Airstrip One is a world of perpetual war, pervasive government surveillance, and incessant public mind control. The individual is always subordinated to the state, and it is in part this philosophy which allows the Party to manipulate and control humanity. In the Ministry of Truth, protagonist Winston Smith is a civil servant responsible for perpetuating the Party's propaganda by revising historical records to render the Party omniscient and always correct, yet his meager existence disillusions him to the point of seeking rebellion against Big Brother, eventually leading to his arrest, torture, and reconversion."

Aeryl's picture
Submitted by Aeryl on

This sums my feelings about this perfectly.

In addition, I am perfectly capable of seperating MY sense of personal satisfaction at vengeance, from the actions my country SHOULD take.

Like, I can feel he should have been taken out and shot, and had his head mounted on a stick for all to see, and still acknowledge that such actions should not be condoned or conducted by the leaders of my nation, of whom I expect more.

But instead, being a leader anymore doesn't mean leading, it means playing to the baser instincts and desires of a portion of your population. And that's sad.

madamab's picture
Submitted by madamab on

In addition, I am perfectly capable of seperating MY sense of personal satisfaction at vengeance, from the actions my country SHOULD take.

That is the point I'm trying to make. I'm not trying to be the Feelings Police. I am despairing over the way our country has failed the challenges posed by bin Laden's attacks. We have answered evil with evil.

mjames's picture
Submitted by mjames on

as nothing more than a reelection ploy. You know, reaching out to the lunatic right. They love 'em some blood and guts, and they hate the rule of law. (Inherit the Wind comes to mind.) Obama already has - and will always have - the mindless groupies who are supposedly leftist. They will applaud whatever he does. But he never stops pandering to the right, hoping for a few votes. What's a few thousand more deaths and a few dozen more wars if he gains a vote or two? And taking out OBL was sure to fulfill a lot of fantasies (although I suspect the spontaneous celebrations weren't quite so spontaneous).

Was there a body? Whose body was it? What was done to it? When? How?

I think if it was OBL and he is dead, then we had to kill him to keep him from speaking of his CIA-sponsored work. He was, after all, our guy once upon a time.

I am beyond disgusted. I am sick at heart.

lizpolaris's picture
Submitted by lizpolaris on

and deliver him to jail for the US Marshal to take him to the judge? What would the Lone Ranger do?

And the allies delivered the Nazis to the Nuremburg trials.
And even frikkin Bush II sent Saddam Hussein from his spidey hole to Iraqi courts to be hanged.

Now our soldiers are to act like they are part of the Total Annihalation video game and just go assassinate people? This is an improvement? Where are the good guys?

What this event proves beyond the shadow of a doubt is that Obama himself has absolutely no faith in the US justice system and the courts. Nor apparently for international courts.

Eureka Springs's picture
Submitted by Eureka Springs on

nearly brought me to tear. Thank you for saying it. The fact you have despair in your heart is a very good healthy sign.

The more i think about it the more I believe a Democratic party head/president should have captured and put him on trial... it truly would have been a change i could have tried to believe in (until we all witnessed the minutia of our military court system, no doubt).. the fact basically no one in media and politics even considers it says so much.

madamab's picture
Submitted by madamab on

between our two legacy parties. Unfortunately when it comes to the "War on Terror," both Democrats and Republicans have bought into the idea that bin Laden declared war on us.

In my opinion, he did not. He is a terrorist, which means he is a non-state actor.

A non-state actor does not speak for any particular government. S/he cannot mobilize state resources such as armies, navies, air forces and marines - and the weapons they have access to. Further, there is no state infrastructure for carrying out military actions; there are no factories which the state can utilize for weapons and war equipment production; s/he is operating outside of the law, and thus can be arrested at any time by anyone (unlike the head of a state).

This man was a monster and IMHO deserved to die, but he did not have the power to declare war. And we did not have the right to kill him without a trial establishing his guilt (and making him suffer humiliation, I might add).

Submitted by lambert on

... or is said to have said:

“Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn't learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn't learn a little, at least we didn't get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn't die; so, let us all be thankful.”

Meaning, I understand the feeling of despair. And this is [lambert blushes modestly] a blog heavily populated with creatives, and -- armchair- and popular-psychologizing freely -- we get the heights of joy and the depths, too.

Also, you are to consider (a turn of phrase that Stephen Maturin used to Jack Aubrey) that despair and depression are often medicated with "retail therapy" -- unhappy people shop. Therefore, Big Media thrives on created negative feelings (so anodyne a phrase) because it provides profits to Big Food -- "Here, have this entire pint of ice cream!" -- and Big Media -- "It's the feel-good movie of the year!" and Big Money -- "Priceless." The despair is indeed, as you say, "manufactured" to demoralize (all senses) us, and help our enemies.

But I don't want to despair. Despair immobilizes. Now, I may contribute to the doomy atmosphere simply because I feel I have to be productive -- Post! Post! Post! And since the political economy is so constituted that current news is either bad for us, or one turn of the wheel away from being bad, that most of the riffs and talking points and analytical tools I have, which I require to be productive, even before any larger purpose is considered, are doomy. To write about happy things, however, takes actual work: I have to go garden, for example. So, when I'm pressed for time, which is in its way an RL positive -- my posts tend to go doomy! So I am not an especially reliable barometer (the measure of "depression"...)

Also, consider how much wisdom you have to share. I really wish I could figure out how to do a teach-in on the ground. I think the up-and-coming youth of today is, in fact, hungry for historical knowledge. They're no dummies (except for the OFB). They know they've been shortchanged...

NOTE Consider Vienna...

madamab's picture
Submitted by madamab on

I tend to take (or suggest) action to stave it off.

But this time, I felt like perhaps sharing my feelings would help others as well as myself. Sometimes it does.

Submitted by lambert on

I hope I didn't sound critical (in the bad sense) though I hope I sounded critical (in the good sense of critique).

I'm recalling a terrific thread we had on depression a long time ago.

madamab's picture
Submitted by madamab on

And no worries, I didn't see it as a personal critique. (Forgive me for the slow response, RL and all.)

To answer you, I don't think that despair is always a bad thing. It strikes me that it may be the only catalyst for real change. Human beings often won't do anything until they realize just how bad things have gotten.

Because of the concept I have about despair, I don't think the Powers That Be "want us to despair." I think they want us to be ignorant and impoverished and fearful, so that we will not realize how bad things are, and will go about our daily business without trying to derail their gravy trains.

I also don't equate despair with depression. When I studied psychology, depression was defined as "anger turned inwards." That's not what I'm expressing - at least, it's not what I mean to express. My despair is outward-facing and outward-blaming; in other words, I don't blame myself for Obama's actions, therefore I feel that once my emotions have passed, I will be able to take appropriate action.

Depression is paralytic because it is directed against the person feeling it. Because of its inward focus, it is a poisonous, immobilizing, and often deadly emotion.

Does that make any sense to you?

Submitted by lambert on

I fear depression a lot, which is why I'm trying to tease apart these emotions. I think the point is to "move" us, which is good.

madamab's picture
Submitted by madamab on

Depression is to be avoided whenever possible.

Often people think I am depressing when I post about how I see things. But my ultimate goal is to awake people to action without giving them false hope.

My inspiration is always Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, who fought for 67 years to get women the right to vote, and never, ever gave up. They did not see the success of their efforts in their lifetimes, and yet, without them we never would have seen the 19th Amendment ratified.

I am sure they despaired at times, but that despair did not stay them from their purpose.

Submitted by lambert on

In fact, heirlooms can make one despair (at the loss, and one's potential losses, including the loss of one's self-hood) and bring one joy (at carrying life forward, happy memories, and things of beauty in and of them selves). Interesting that despair is "made" and joy is "brought"...

NOTE The financial flows of the rentiers course through every part of our lives down to the cellular level. It is natural that if they wish us to feel despair, and they do, we will feel it. This is far better than feeling numb. The "Just So" story about despair, and feelings in general, is that it and they motivates one to change, if only in terms of changing one's circumstances through motion.... Unless one succumbs to delectation, in which case despair impacts itself into depression, which is the very definition of anti-change (or at least no change "under one's own power").

Aeryl's picture
Submitted by Aeryl on

That's an awesome observation, lambert, and it ties in with something my boss was telling me this morning.

She was watching some news special about the raid, and she was upset, because it was showing house, and she felt sad about him dying, because he had knick knacks. His house looked like her house.

In her words, "It was humanizing" and it upset her, because this self-avowed Christian woman felt they should have continued to dehumanize him(her exact terms), like by showing continous footage of 9/11, instead of the flowers in the vase.

Now, I'm of the opinion that we should be honest, and that attempts to humanize him, are exactly what should be done. But, that's because I think this country desperately needs some perspective. I doubt that's what the media's motive is. Instead, it's to encourage people to feel despair about it.

scoutt's picture
Submitted by scoutt on

how weird.
is it a revenge thing?
that site just seemed to fall apart overnight.

and now back on topic, i just came from the shrink and we discussed our repulsion at the bloodlust celebration. she said it's a generational thing in her opinion. people that had a foot in the 60's and 70's are very turned off by the jingoism.
anyone after that, not so much.

thanks for the post.

Submitted by lambert on

Not today. I like RD. And as far as being DISemployed, we're in the same boat. I can't write intelligently about scientific research since I know nothing about it. I don't think much of generations as an analytical tool, either. Isn't Karl Rove a boomer? I've got little in common with him, I hope! There are doubtless cultural and political economic factors for which "generation" is a shorthand or metonymy, but why not use the real factors, not the shorthand?

scoutt's picture
Submitted by scoutt on

just thought it was weird.
doesn't have anything to do with liking or disliking
I'm unemployed as well...what does that have to do with anything?
you're quick dismissal of an insight from someone who watches culture closely
and hears peoples intimate thoughts all day long is a little lazy but it's your blog.
seems like you wanted to smack my little comment down on all counts.
still love your blog!

Submitted by lambert on

In this case, it was clearly a mistake to have commented at all. Back to RL.

NOTE To amplify.... I don't need to know if somebody's saying bad things about me on the internets. Heck, both VastLeft and I have had entire sites devoted to us. So if there's no expectation that I read and react, why tell me? It reminds me of high school. Perhaps I'm just in a nasty mood. There seems to be a lot of that going around lately, and I think that the Osama killing made it worse. Out.

madamab's picture
Submitted by madamab on

Not sure why I feel that way, since I am Gen X. But then, I hated Raygun with a passion, even at the age of 13. :-)

And not weird about RD. There is a history there. As Lambert says, who cares?

twig's picture
Submitted by twig on

under the circumstances, madamab. The frustrations are nearly overwhelming. When did we become a bunch of barbarians who think shooting an older, sickly, unarmed man point-blank in the face is justice? Don't we have laws and courts for this very reason, to separate the guilty from the innocent and to determine an appropriate sentence? And now even the President is behaving like a mob boss? How is this country ever going to turn itself around?

I go back and forth, between "it can't, it won't, it's over" and "something will happen, it'll be okay" -- but honestly, the second one seems more like magical thinking every day. In fact, the only reason I entertain the idea that somehow things will get better is not because the situation is actually improving, but because I hate feeling frustrated and impotent. So "self medicating" with platitudes about how it'll all work out, good will prevail, blah blah blah relieves some of that. Until the next news story comes out.

Submitted by lambert on

"If something cannot go on forever, it will stop."

* * *

We all know that the current political economy is not sustainable. Even the elite know, and that's why they're doubling down.

And in some very reasonable scenarios, gardens help when the food chain collapses.

In other words, the joy and beauty that can come from gardening are like a message in a bottle from the future left for us. Let's not stigmatize those feelings as not serious because they're not doomy; they are in fact very important signals -- along all the pathways imaginable, including the chemical and the sensual -- to pay attention to. Plantidotes are important and not diversionary or frivolous exactly because they are beautiful. Read Michael Pollan's wonderful The Botany of Desire.