Archive for the ‘Anarchists’ Category

The great revolutionary anarchist, Mikhail Bakunin wrote, “I am properly free when all the men and women about me are equally free…”1 I thought for a good period that Bakunin must be a severe sentimentalist. Clearly, this is not correct; lock up the criminals and I’ll be safe. However, of late, through consideration of the Jewish occupation of Palestine, I’ve grasped in this phrase a great depth and wisdom. Although the dreadful predicament of the Palestinians is rightfully discussed in progressive writings, there exists a curious self-enthrallment in Israeli society. But first, reflect that George Orwell once shot an elephant.

As a young policeman in 1920’s Burma, Orwell was called out one afternoon deal with an aggressive bull elephant that had pulled free of its restraints, was destroying property, and had trampled an unfortunate Indian coolie. With elephant gun in hand, he trotted off to find the beast with thousands of Burmese villagers scurrying in tow eagerly awaiting the inevitable showdown. At last, Orwell discovered the animal among some muddy rice patches peaceably munching grasses with a touching “grandmotherly air.” At this point, Orwell writes that he had no desire to “murder” it knowing that its owner was just some hours away. Yet he was fixed on an unalterable course:

And suddenly I realized that I should have to shoot the elephant after all. The people expected it of me and I had got to do it; I could feel their two thousand wills pressing me forward, irresistibly. And it was at this moment, as I stood there with the rifle in my hands, that I first grasped the hollowness, the futility of the white man’s dominion in the East. Here was I, the white man with his gun, standing in front of the unarmed native crowd – seemingly the leading actor of the piece; but in reality I was only an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind. I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys.

Israel’s crimes trample through our conscious these days while the corporate press, through momentum of habit, attempt to cast the state of Israel as an unfortunate victim acting from the position of mere defence. Like children who hide their faces under blankets and trust the scary world does not exist, our media agents wrap their heads in newsprint and wish the internet into oblivion, that nasty virtual world where anyone interested in facts can read human right reports like the one that B’Tselem recently issued.

Ruins of Gaza

One and a half million Gazans live in “severe poverty.” Ninety-five percent of their factories are shut down. Ninety eight percent of the residents suffer from regular electrical blackouts while the other two percent have no electricity to lose. Ninety three percent of their water wells are polluted. Approximately 20,000 were left homeless, 5300 wounded, and 1390 killed by the Israeli military attack on them 27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009 while just twelve Israelis were killed in that assault (4 of them from friendly fire.)

Meanwhile in the much larger West Bank, Israel has confiscated tens of thousands of acres of Palestinian land which has been subsequently settled by some 310,000 Jews transferred from Israel proper. The infamous security/apartheid fence/wall snakes around many of these settlements to make the land grab more permanent. Palestinians suffer restricted movement due to more than 500 checkpoints and roadblocks where soldiers have committed hundreds of incidents of abuse while the State gives a little wink of its blind eye. Tyranny it is. And yet, when the Jewish man turns tyrant, he too destroys his own freedom.

Amira Hass, Israeli journalist and winner of journalism and human rights awards, writes that most Israelis, “have given up on real information” as they refuse to understand the shocked response of some people in the world to the treatment of the Palestinians. And, to be sure, Hass knows what she is talking about having recently lived in Gaza for some months –only to be arrested on her return to Israel on charges of criminally residing in an enemy state. Can a nation call itself free when it breeds such a disdain for information that it will persecute its journalists in this manner?

Writer Ilan Pappe likens Israel, with its colonist policies, to a settler Prusian state, and provides first-hand knowledge of the “socialisation and education” that someone born in Israel receives. Israeli Jews are subjected to a “militarisation of the mind” and a domination by the army over political, cultural and economic life. Ex-military man and Israeli peace activist, Uri Avnery, refers to the “addiction of our leaders to the use of force.”

Such views of Israel depict this nation as a military state, indoctrinating its citizens with its military propaganda, slamming journalists, and abusing human rights. This cannot be right; surely Israel is a democracy, a singularly free nation in that region!

Zoabi Accosted

Anthropologist, author, and activist Jeff Halper puts a big question mark on this categorization. He frankly says, that Israel is, in fact, an ethnocracy, not a democracy, where the 70% of the Israelis who are Jewish own the country. And then there is the apartheid wall which further erodes any democratic credentials because “You can’t have a democracy here and an occupation there.” This ethnocracy was certainly on display quite recently when Members of the Knesset (MK) accosted MK Haneen Zoabi, tossed her out of the parliamentary chamber, and revoked various of her parliamentary privileges. Zoabi is, of course, an Arab Israeli. “I thought, this couldn’t be a parliament, these are just gangsters,” she remarked later.

Israeli Soldiers

But these parliamentary members are a product of the country and an unhealthy society. Halper says that “The occupation permeates ever single aspect of their lives.” And the result is a rise in alcoholism and domestic violence, and of a high suicide rate among soldiers and police. Canadian author, Margaret Atwood, calls this permeation “The Shadow.” The Shadow, or “the situation” as it is more commonly called, is Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians; it makes its appearance two minutes into any conversation and “haunts everything.” As Avnery writes: “Violence is a symptom; the occupation is the disease – a mortal disease for everybody concerned, [both] the occupied and for the occupiers.”

Orwell ends his exposition on shooting an elephant with the phrase, “I often wondered whether any of the [other English police personnel] grasped that I had done it solely to avoid looking a fool.” But the whole English empire was eventually made to look the fool when Gandhi sent it packing. The Americans looked the fool when they were forced out of Vietnam, as the Russians looked the fool when pushed from Afghanistan. The sooner Israel looks the fool, the sooner it ends the occupation, the better for all concerned, Palestinians and Jews alike.

1 A. Lehning, 1973, “Michael Bakunin: Selected Writings” page 146

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Capitalism and dance do not mix. No matter who you are on Earth, look around you, and you’ll see that you live in a culture of dancing, or you exist within the influence of capitalism. Never do both thrive simultaneously.

Culture is our immune system. It keeps us strong and vibrant. It connects us to a community with the healthful consequences that come with that bond. Dance is one of the indicators of this system’s strength; it is the rosy hue of our complexion, the fire in our eyes, the strength of our stride. If you need a quick summation of a culture’s vitality, you only require the answer to one question: do the people dance? Capitalism aims to penetrate the social body. It is a pathogen that sees only one role for the organism it invades: a host for itself. The virus has no respect for the welfare of the being that it usurps; it desires only infection of that body and contagion to the next. It feeds off the host, sapping it of vigour, exhausting the muscles, straining the being in unseemly ways. Now, fever overtakes us, the sickly. We rush to work, speed to the next mall sale. Sirens blare in the night. Prisons are filled. Pink slips are issued. Now, delirium accosts us. Political campaigners, advertisers and agents of public relations garble delusional messages into our ears. Finally tiredness overcomes us. Television, alcohol, drugs, and fluffy internet apps send us into our stupor.

The immune system activates to counter this onslaught. But it struggles. Native peoples of European settler countries suffer the inevitable, dire poverty of modern capitalist “development” while they dance for their very cultural lives. On the Iberian peninsula, birthplace of the flamenco, the fandango, the paso doble, the bolero and the sardana, the capitalist bug completed its infection after taking advantage of a crippled immune system. The cultures of the Basques, Catalans, Andalusians and others were squashed by the goose-stepping Spanish fascists in the 1930’s, dance shoes being no match for jackboots. This pattern repeats globally. Governments the world over—“democratic,” or totalitarian—use State toxins to weaken the immunity of the social body for the benefit of the capitalist contagion.

Revival of the Sardana

The State-assisted capitalist epidemic broke out first in the British Isles with its industrialization and merchant trading. And now almost no one in those ancient lands know the steps to the jig, the reel, the fling, the strathspey, or the Morris dance any more. Dances of central Europe and Germany—the schuhplattler, the ländler, the waltz, the polka—suffered a loss of vitality soon afterwards. And similarly, we see the virus sweeping across 21st century China as the mechanical Han Chinese produce coal mines and factories, condominiums and brand-name apparel, with nary a bounce in their step. In all of these countries dance primarily exists in two forms. It becomes a theatre show for viewing, a spectacle to watch but not for doing. Put in a petri dish and swirled around. Or young party-goers flail about desperately in nightclubs, alcohol sloshing within their bellies, in decidedly un-cultural ways.

To be sure, on occasion new dance styles are invented such as hip hop and jumpstyle on the streets and in the clubs. But they struggle to revive the culture and often fade out after some time. Or the contagion immerses them, and they become assimilated by capitalist forces. One of the greatest dancers in modern times, Michael Jackson, rose up from meagre origins, realized great financial success, and promptly forgot how to create new steps. A rose emerged from the dirt, swayed and fluttered attractively to the rhythm of the wind, and was plucked crudely for the businessman’s lapel.

But maybe there is hope yet. The Greeks, perhaps the only Western Europeans to maintain dear feelings for dance, those people of hundreds of styles, muster some resistance to the International Monetary Fund and other bullying financial organizations–while commentators laughably write, “The Greeks’ innate anti-authoritarianism… is at the heart of the problem.” The capitalist pathogen surrounds Cuba seeking a vector into that lively organism while the defenders conjure up the cha-cha, summon the spirit of the salsa, and invoke the magic of the mambo for protection. The samba-loving Brazilians and tango-strutting Argentines resist international capitalist pressures. The Bolivians with their caporales, morenada, kullwada, diablada, and countless other dances gyrate, bounce, and skip an anti-globalization president into office. How wonderful that some refuse to march in step.

Anarchist Emma Goldman once said: If there won’t be dancing at the revolution, I’m not coming. I can tap my foot to that tune.

Such nonsense: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” Countries exist only because man creates them as he builds furniture, civil structures and computing machines. They are built in order to serve some purpose in the manner that tables, bridges and iPads are constructed for utility too. There is no point in having any of them around otherwise. Let me announce, “Ask not what your garden shovel can do for you, but what you can do for your garden shovel,” and the ridiculous nature of this presidential proclamation becomes evident. How can someone slobber such patriotic sludge, and why do people suck it up through straws as narrow as their limited reasoning?

The Chelsea Pensioners Reading the Waterloo Dispatch

As recently as two hundred years ago it is doubtful that very many residents of the British Isles considered themselves to be British. A painting by David Wilkie caused a stir in 1822, for it aimed to manufacture a British identity through a patriotism that transcended age, gender, class, race, or occupation. “We” had just defeated Napoleon. And if you could see yourself in this painting, if you happened to be someone from Irish, Welsh, Scottish or English origin, rich or poor, man or woman, white or black, then you were one of the “we” who had just vanquished the enemy. It was of no consequence that many “French” men and women, in an age before railways and national schools, had no idea who Napoleon was.

Influential men in the British Isles were expanding their trade internationally and needed “Britain”, a political fabrication, for their protection. They needed laws favourable to their dealings, laws that would protect their property. They needed a navy and army to escort them on their expeditions. And they needed the people across the land to sign on to the whole arrangement. The common person in Yorkshire or Cornwall never had designs to become even English let alone British.

Similarly, ninety-seven percent of the inhabitants of the newly formed Italy did not speak Italian and had never clamoured in their multitudinous dialects for a change of language. What good was Italy and Italian to them? And let’s not forget the United States. Historian Howard Zinn reminds us that the Revolutionary War was unpopular: “It was not all the common people getting together to fight against England. They had a very hard time assembling an army. They took poor guys and promised them land. They browbeat people…” And when the soldiers discovered they were part of a racket, a good many mutinied. Yes, countries were created by wealthy people in order to fulfil their ambitions of power. Zinn tells us that “the farmers were rather poor; the Founding Fathers were rather rich.”

We are often told that socialism (when the State owns the means of production) is evil. We are also told that its opposite, capitalism (when the means of production own the State) is good. Good for who? Rich property owners? International traders and financiers? Business elites and industrialists? The phrasing more correctly should be, “Ask not what the owners of the country can do for you, but what you can do for the owners of the country.” But, of course, these words cannot be used. We’re supposed to imagine one big national family. We’re all part of it. We are all American, or British, or whatever. Let’s not think of class, or of class war. The very ideas sound much too Marxist; surely they belong in the pages of a dusty, Victorian library.

But a class war is being fought, and being fought unevenly. The elites know what they are doing when they step into society’s ring. They throw the punches and land the blows with hands that are unfairly clad with the concrete wrappings of The Law. Their opponents–the rest of us–mostly take it on the chin. When we succeed in picking ourselves up off the mat for another round or when we temporarily stem the blood-flow, we rejoice in our small victories. Never mind that the State referees the match to our purposeful disadvantage; the fix is most certainly in. And we’re losing badly.

Would you believe that all countries on earth will execute anyone within its borders who commits even the most trifling act of disobedience? You may think, “Surely, this is not the case. Very few countries submit to death any but the worse criminals.” Yes, this is certainly true; officially most Western countries have abandoned capital punishment. However, in practice, the State will kill—and without trial—any who push their dissenting positions hard enough. Take the following hypothetical trivial incident to its inevitable conclusion.

Suppose the city thinks it best to adorn your car with a wee bit of coloured paper, a mere four grams of thinly sliced, dyed cellulose pulp. And suppose the city then devises the sloth-brained notion that you now owe it a sum of money equal to a few hours of your labour. Well, you never asked for pretty cellulose pulp, and you reckon the price is too steep, anyway, if you had. So, being as sane as the next guy, you toss it aside and forget about the matter.

But, alas, the city persists in sending you yet more pulp, this time by mail and this time cellulose of a much less amusing nature: thicker, coarser, pure white except some threatening lettering. And, the city charges still more for this—added to the sum you already “owe” it. By now, you may be at the point of ignoring this nonsense out of pure principle. Do grown adults really send strangers unsigned slips of paper in the mail with demands of money for no discernible reason?

Remarkably, the city figures its authority derives from something called the State, from laws that you’ve never read and would never write, from the imaginations of people who have been long dead. And so, some other sliver of fibre arrives at your abode demanding your appearance in a courtroom. Well, you reckon, quite sensibly, that lawyer-types are the last people you’d like to spend an afternoon talking to, so you do not go. You are subsequently found in contempt of court. Or, maybe you decide differently. You do choose to attend (you need an excuse to duck the dentist anyway); whereupon, you inform the man sat in the tall chair that you’ve been very amused with the whole dance, thank you very much, and could we now knock it off? The consequences will be similar in either scenario.

A point will be reached where you come face-to-face with a police officer. Perhaps the judge orders him to restrain you right then and there. Maybe he comes menacingly round to your home. Or perhaps as you drive, he produces—like an adolescent who has just discovered fireworks—flashing lights and a hellish scream. Apparently something called a driver’s licence is revoked, even though it sits right there in your wallet. Well, now you are really up against it, for this is someone unreceptive to reasoned conversation. He means to physically disrupt you. You recoil; maybe you resist. He draws a gun. Quick, what do you have in your pockets to help you? Too late: you’re dead.

Can you now see that the most likely price for stubbornly refusing to pay a trifling parking ticket is your eventual extermination? Yes, it is true, you might get lucky and only be incapacitated by the officer, perhaps by a taser shot or a blow from a truncheon. But do you really want to rely on good fortune and an insufficiently cracked skull for your survival?

Taking this reasoning to its conclusion, can you imagine any scenario, whatsoever, where a regular individual without the power of money or a vast organization could violate any law, get identified for it, and still succeed in resisting the penalty (cash or jail time), that wouldn’t put him in eventual conflict with a cop? And are there any means to physically defeat the police force? Your expiration is the most likely outcome if you try hard enough. And remarkably, most people accept this as normal and correct.

Take the case of Robert Dziekanski killed by Canada’s national police force a few miles from where I now sit; killed for mildly resisting police attempts to detain him (he may have been armed against four cops with an office stapler); killed after causing some disturbance in an airport brought on by travel fatigue, lack of sleep, and frustrations with ten hours of airport bureaucracy. The consequences of this poor man’s death were public outrage, a coroner’s inquest, investigations, independent reviews, and various reports and recommendations.

The stream of events roughly followed a course that questioned whether the victim was much of a threat, whether the police were too forceful, or whether the taser is an appropriate weapon. The only question was whether the degree of police violence was appropriate to the circumstance—not whether representatives of the State should have been on location acting violently to begin with. In other words, had Dziekanski resisted the policemen’s advances more robustly, his death would have been palatable to society. The State is expected to kill. As Alexander Berkman wrote, “We are so steeped in the spirit of violence that we never stop to ask whether violence is right or wrong. We only ask if it is legal, whether the law permits it.”

It must be clear now that the State does not merely have a monopoly on violence, but it is inherently violent. We do not take our opposition to the State too far because we know it controls the police. We submit to the police because we know damned well what we are in for if we do not. Once you have defied the State, even to the smallest degree, you have set in motion an apparatus that cannot be reasoned with, one that will force your compliance on penalty of death.

At that frightening moment Dziekanski realized he would be shot, he exclaimed to those State officers, “Have you gone insane?” There is nothing sane about any of this.

Would you believe that all countries on earth have the death penalty and will execute anyone within its borders who commits even the most trifling act of disobedience? You may think, “Surely, this is not the case. Very few countries submit to death any but the worse criminals.” Yes, this is certainly true; officially most Western countries have abandoned penalty of death. However, in practice, the State will kill—and without trial—any who push their dissenting positions hard enough. Take the following trivial incident to its necessary conclusion.

Suppose the city thinks it best to adorn your car with a wee bit of coloured paper, a mere four grams of thinly sliced, dyed cellulose pulp. And suppose the city then devises the sloth-brained notion that you now owe it a sum of money equal to a few hours of your labour. Well, you never ask for pretty cellulose pulp, and you reckon the price is too steep, anyway, if you had. So, being as sane as the next guy, you toss it aside and forget about the matter.

But, alas, the city persists in sending you yet more pulp, this time by mail and this time cellulose of a much less amusing nature: thicker, coarser, pure white except some threatening lettering. And, the city charges still more for this—added to the sum you already “owe” it. By now, you may be at the point of ignoring all this nonsense out of pure principle. Do grown adults really send strangers unsigned slips of paper in the mail with demands of money for no discernable reason?

Remarkably, the city figures its authority derives from something called the State, from laws that you’ve never read and would never write, from the imaginations of people who have been long dead. And so, some other sliver of fiber arrives at your abode demanding your appearance in a courtroom. Well, you reckon, quite sensibly, that lawyer-types are the last people you’d like to spend an afternoon talking to, so you do not go. You are subsequently found in contempt of court. Or, maybe you decide differently. You do choose to attend (you need an excuse to duck the dentist anyway); whereupon, you inform the man sat in the tall chair that you’ve been very amused with the whole dance, thank you very much, and could we now knock it off? The consequences will be similar in either scenario.

A point will be reached where you come face-to-face with a police officer. Perhaps the court orders him to restrain you right then and there. Maybe he comes menacingly round to your home. Or perhaps as you drive, he produces—like an adolescent who has just discovered fireworks—flashing lights and an Almighty scream. Apparently something called a driver’s licence is revoked, even though it sits right there in your wallet. Well, now you are really up against it, for this is someone unreceptive to reasoned conversation. He means to physically disrupt you. You recoil; maybe you resist. He draws a weapon. Quick, what do you have in your pockets to help you? Too late: you’re dead.

Can you now see that the most likely price for stubbornly refusing to pay a trifling parking ticket is your imminent termination? Yes, it is true, you might get lucky and only be incapacitated by the officer, perhaps by a taser shot or a blow from a truncheon. But do you really want to rely on good fortune and an insufficiently cracked skull for your survival?

Taking this reasoning to its conclusion, can you imagine any scenario, whatsoever, where a regular individual without the power of money or a vast organization could violate any law, get identified for it, and still succeed in resisting the penalty (cash or jail time), that wouldn’t put him in eventual conflict with a cop? And are there any means to physically defeat the police force? Your expiration is the most likely outcome if you try. And most remarkably, most people accept this as normal and correct.

Take the case of Robert Dziekanski killed by Canada’s national police force a few miles from where I now sit, killed for mildly resisting police attempts to detain him (he may have been armed against four cops with an office stapler), killed after causing some disturbance in an airport brought on by his travel fatigue, his lack of sleep and his frustrations with ten hours of airport bureaucracy. The consequences of this poor man’s death were public outrage, a coroner’s inquest, investigations, independent reviews, and various reports and recommendations.

The stream of events roughly followed a course that questioned whether the victim was much of a threat, whether the police were too forceful, or whether the taser is an appropriate weapon. The only question was whether the police violence was appropriate to the circumstance—not whether representatives of the State should have been on location acting violently to begin with. In other words, had Dziekanski resisted the police’s advances more robustly, his death would have been palateable to society. The State is expected to kill.

It must be clear now that the State does not merely have a monopoly on violence, but it is inherently violent. We do not take our opposition to the State too far because we know it controls the police. We submit to the police because we know damned well what we are in for if we do not. Once you have defied the State, even to the smallest degree, you have set into motion an apparatus that cannot be reasoned with, one that will force your compliance on penalty of death.


At that frightening moment Dziekanski realized he would be shot, he exclaimed to those representatives of the State, “Have you gone insane?” There is nothing sane about any of this.

In my last blog entry I explained how I get a good chuckle from streakers. And, unknown to me, as I wrote that post, such a ballsy act was swinging into action—as ballsy acts do—not far from where currently I sit. So, here is a short follow-on post—not to discuss more nudity, mind you, but, rather, stadiums.

B.C. Place Stadium

In Vancouver, The B.C. Lions play that false variant of football where an oblong “ball” is struck by an actual foot hardly at all and with about as much grace as a steroid needle plunging into buttock muscle. “The beautiful game” it ain’t, but, nevermind: as far as sports go, this one makes about as much sense as any of the others. Now, these faux wildcats normally play in a soulless concrete cavern of a stadium, on fake grass, illuminated by artificial light, beneath a glorified umbrella of a roof. An apparatus of sorts, a noise-o-meter, is employed to elicit the effects of enthusiasm (i.e. cheering noises) with none of the normal causes for such (i.e. something exciting occurring). Imagine the choreographed mass applause for Our Beloved Comrade Leader in some far off dictatorland—minus the actual Beloved Comrade Leader. Like that.

When Rudolf Rocker wrote of “the tuning of all human feeling to one note, the rejection of the rich diversity of life, the mechanical fitting of all effort to a designated pattern”, he might have been discussing a B.C. Lions game. Is it any wonder that brawls in the stands have been common? I attended a game years ago and left half way through. I heard on the radio later that “we” had won.

But the other night, from one account anyway, it appears the sorry status quo was turned on its head. The team was the same; the rules of the game hadn’t changed. But a mood of great festivity had overwhelmed the fans. Cheering happened spontaneously and naturally. Laughter rained down from the stands for the nude fellow rushing across the field. Some sang for no particular reason other than good mood, and still others stomped their feet. Hundreds built a “beer snake” from their empty plastic cups and wriggled it around the stadium. Inevitably the noise-o-meter made its ugly appearance, and fans thrashed it with their silence. What brought on this infection of good cheer, this organic sprouting of the best of human feelings? Quite simply: the venue. Gone was the cavern, changed to an outdoor arena, with real grass, a blue and white sky, wind and sun.

With a little reflection, I might wonder whether these football games say something about human nature. How do the physical surroundings affect the mood of individuals and the behaviour of crowds? Are people, when allowed to behave naturally, innately good? But maybe that is meat for another post.

By the way, the outcome of the game this particular day? The home team lost. I wonder if anyone minded?

Traditional journalism is dead. We all know it. The body is still warm, to be sure. Stinking gases still noisily leak out of the orifices; reporters write columns –but with fewer and fewer readers. Online articles, blogs, and reports now dominate our information delivery. Media analysts scratch their heads in an attempt to discern the reasons. Most websites are free to view they reason; this trumps quality. The masses are too ignorant to understand the importance of professional writing anyway. Don’t they get that the health of democracy depends on a “reputable” journalist class? But the public does get it. They get it in a deeply intuitive manner. The commercial media does not have their interests at heart. But the internet: now, there’s something they can believe in.

As I wrote in last week’s blog entry, in 1988 Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky published “Manufacturing Consent”, describing how the Western media conforms to a model of propaganda comprising five elements that filter and distort the news stories: 1) ownership, 2) funding, 3) sourcing, 4) flak and 5) ideology. The power structures in society –chiefly corporations (including the media firms and their advertisers) and governments –pursue their shared, overlapping interests while propagating only a narrow spectrum of thought that supports their values. And it has worked –until recently.

But then along sauntered the internet, that completely incoherent techie marvel with its cacophony of muddled messages. Ask it a question, any question whatsoever, and listen to the chaotic jumble of answers it produces. It’s as if God Himself has returned to Earth in the form of your eccentric ol’ Uncle Hank. It’s hard not to be seduced by Uncle Hank: liked by all, understood by none, and always generous with his rambling, sometimes self-contradictory, opinions on any subject under the sun. The internet’s truly sublime traits are its lack of condescension that it knows best, its non-possession of an ideology, and the freedom it gives us to form our own threads of understanding. It supplies the information; make up your own mind.

Wikileaks exists in this online territory as a revolutionary news agency. And the propaganda system described above contains it about as well as a shoe box would hold a mongoose. Being a non-profit outfit with no advertising, wikileaks runs off donations and has no particular compulsion to surrender to flak or abide by any ideology other than the one of bringing naked information to the public. However, its true genius is its sourcing. Not only doesn’t wikileaks rely on official pronouncements by the elites for its information, but it exposes information that the elites specifically do not want exposing, their non-official views.

Other alternative news agencies will dodge the elite sources of information and bring news from the grassroots, but their information always comes with element of speculation. Maybe the interpretation of what the powerful are doing is wrong. Or when we are sure that the interpretation is correct, we’re never certain that the government or business leader isn’t just committing a mistake and really, truly means well. However, a wikileaks leak can remove all speculation about interpretation and may even reveal shameful lies. A mongoose is just the thing for snakes-in-the-grass.

Clearly the future of reporting will rely on the internet with its independent thinkers and whistle blowers. It will exist as a product of all of humanity and not as an item for mere consumption by us. And wikileaks fulfils the role of greatest importance, for it most effectively makes the elites’ propaganda impotent.

There’s been some talk that professional journalism is dying as newspaper and magazine sales plummet, and news rooms lay off reporters. But, no, journalism was never alive to begin with. It was all a big ruse. Certainly, stories were researched, written, edited and published. But the industry’s vitality was faked, its Stepford news reporters unable to break their programs. We’re realizing this slowly day by day, year upon year, as the sorry newsprint is contrasted with the vigour of free thought issuing forth from the craniums of millions of online reporters, bloggers, and opinion writers.

Now, Michael Hastings’ story, “The Runaway General,” in Rolling Stone has gained much attention recently. To be sure, it slightly pushes the bounds of what a good reporter “ought” to write and even succeeded in getting its subject, General McChrystal, sacked. But was this article proof of the freedom of the press? Hardly –not if freedom of the press has any relationship to freedom of thought as opposed to mere freedom to write within a narrow band of opinion.

Twenty-two years ago Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky published “Manufacturing Consent”, thoroughly discrediting the commercial media in the West characterizing it as a propaganda device for the power-elites. Despite the media’s claim that it exists as a valuable public service for providing objective news and facilitating public debate, Herman and Chomsky showed that it closely conforms to a model of propaganda comprising five elements that filter and distort the reported stories.

  1. Ownership: a bias due to a focus on profit by the large corporate media businesses.
  2. Funding: a bias due to competition for advertising revenue.
  3. Sourcing: a bias due to reliance on government and business officials for information.
  4. Flak: organized negative responses attack certain stories.
  5. Ideology: an anti-communism bias in the day; anti-terrorism bias today?

In brief, the media organizations, their fellow corporate advertisers, and government and business elites possess overlapping interests which they pursue by propagating various mutually beneficial ideologies and values ensuring a narrow spectrum of public discourse.

Good professional journalists will search for a little wiggle room within the confines of the propaganda system as Michael Hastings has recently demonstrated. But a little wiggling is all it is. To be sure, Rolling Stone conforms to the model (although, it is not a publicly traded company which might give it more licence regarding item #1 above.) It is inconceivable that this magazine could consistently take a position in conflict with its advertisers, their industries, pop culture, the consumerist society, or corporate domination of the economy. The journal is hardly an underground outlet for radical politics. In this way, the Rolling Stone is dangerous, for it gives the illusion that a mainstream outlet is widening the spectrum of discussion when in fact it is only pressing against the edges of the narrow band of permissible “reputable” opinion. In the particular instance of “The Runaway General” story, we can glean some insights into just how narrow the allowable debate is, and just how closely the journalism industry conforms to the model.

Hastings’ story was fairly mild. The story was strictly sourced from official sources –even if they let their guard down somewhat. No Afghani was interviewed, no aid agency, no peacenik. The story did not explore the morality of the war. Torture was described as something merely toxic for one’s career, “a political swamp,” not fundamentally immoral. Civilian casualties were described as “insurgent math”, poor strategy. The war itself might be a “bad idea” because it is not of “vital interest” to America, because the strategies of counterinsurgency have “fundamental flaws”, because “[i]t’s expensive; we’re in an economic crisis.” No mention of its criminality.

According to the reactions of much of the mainstream media, the only “crime” being committed is the one by Hastings himself when breaking some kind of “ground rules” in relation to the military brass. Quite simply, Hastings should not have revealed information that General McChrystal would not want published. Since the article went to print, the Washington Post and ABC have quoted anonymous military sources attacking Hastings’ article. New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote a column indicting Hastings on charges of being a “product of the culture of exposure” which has “undermined public faith in institutions.” How remarkable is this that a NYT columnist believes the media must be a cheerleader for public institutions, must not expose negative information about them?

CBS New’s Lara “Stepford” Logan added to the assessment of Hastings’ un-professionalism by referring to an “element of trust” that a beat reporter needs to have with the generals and went on to say: “Michael Hastings has never served his country the way McChrystal has.” Ah, yes, the country, public institutions, generals: the media must act in the best interests of all these. How dare Hastings report that McChrystal and his staff posses a good deal of disdain for Obama, Biden, or Eikenberry the U.S. Ambassador!

Of course the debate did not end there. A response to the response soon followed. Take, for instance, Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi’s column, “Lara Logan, You Suck”, a righteous diatribe against “reputable” journalists who do not actually work for the people. Yes, Taibbi is correct, but his service to the public is little better when he ends his column with the question on whether the Afghanistan war is “worth all the bloodshed?” Ah, yes, let’s ask the dead if the war is worth it, shall we? General McChrystal is quoted by Hastings as saying, “The Russians killed 1 million Afghans, and that didn’t work.” Is that the debate? How many dead is the war worth? What if killing 2 million Afghans were to work?

Instead of this juvenile bickering among journalists regarding the appropriate amount of sycophantic behaviour and just how much boot licking is too much, why don’t we have real debate on the issues at hand? Below are a few quotes from Hastings’ article and some questions that occur to me.

“[S]ince Karzai is not considered credible by his own people, McChrystal has worked hard to make him so.” And: “the Afghan people do not want us [U.S. soldiers] there.” And the attitude of the civilian population “towards U.S. troops ranges from intensely wary to openly hostile.” The Afghan people do not want the Americans in Afghanistan propping up Karzai. Is this worthy of a public debate? Should we discuss the anti-democratic nature of this occupation?

Al Qaeda has shifted its base of operations to Pakistan.” Is this significant? Pakistan has 177 million people and nuclear weapons. Pakistan is practically at war with India over Kashmir. Al Qaeda has been driven into that mess by the American occupation of Afghanistan.

In the first four months of this year, NATO forces killed some 90 civilians, up 76 percent from the same period in 2009…” And: “In February, a Special Forces night raid ended in the deaths of two pregnant Afghan women and allegations of a cover-up” And: “in April… U.S. forces accidentally shot up a bus, killing five Afghans.” Lastly from McChrystal: “We’ve shot an amazing number of people,” Dead pregnant women and other civilians? Will anyone be held accountable for this?

Says Maj. Gen. Bill Mayville: “It’s not going to look like a win, smell like a win or taste like a win.” So, a loss?

Private Jared Pautsch. “We should just drop a fucking bomb on this place. You sit and ask yourself: What are we doing here?” What does war do to the mentality of the people fighting it?

A senior adviser to McChrystal says: “If Americans pulled back and started paying attention to this war, it would become even less popular.” What does this say about the American people? About the nature of American democracy? Does this say something about the degree of the media coverage, the fact that Americans don’t know more about the war? Suppose real pictures of the war appeared on T.V.?

In summary, an occupation props up a puppet regime that the Afghanis don’t want, kills enough civilians to drive others to reciprocate the hostility, creates terrorists in semi-stable Pakistan, and corrodes the psyche of the young Americans fighting a war that the American people disapprove of and that cannot be won. And our concern should settle on this event of Hastings revealing one General’s disdain for the civilian administration? The propaganda system lives.