A Freeway in Hell

My thoughts on the nature of our late capitalist society. The title should give some clue what I think of that! US 101 or I-80 as metaphor for our imperatives. Besides worrying about what sort of black hole we are speeding into, I like airships. One reason being the almost inescapble desire to have one to get out of a traffic jam!

Location: Sonoma County, California

Grew up a military brat, Californian-in-exile, reactionary libertarian-essentially spent the 70s on Mars, for I am hearing impaired and I did not know what the music was saying. Generally still don't unless I listen to it over and over or find the words captioned on a movie or somewhere on line. Came "back" to California to begin my adult life, have not lived elsewhere since. No regrets there despite our problems here. Have studied physics, more math than most human beings will ever need, worked on spaceship projects (well, one) at JPL. Lived with a wonderful disabled person who lives no more--L Natasha Littletree RIP October 2004. I have a life plan, just kind of vague on some of the short-term stuff.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Why Conservative Social Darwinism will kill us all

For reasons best known to himself, the admirable Skippy the Bush Kangaroo cultivates a friendship with "moderate conservative" blogger Chuck Simmins. I find myself clashing especially hard with these types held up as "reasonable," open-minding, civil spokesmen of the Right. Their reputation for balance and benignity is largely by contrast with the vicious, unreasoned screeds we typically find if we venture into any rightist venue. Was ever thus of course; the reactionaries of the 1900s or 1920s or 1950s were hardly ever known for their civility either. It does not take much to shine in comparison to these standards and so we find people of reasonable views gamely keeping the channels open to the more measured voices on the Right.

Well, that is the nature of freedom on the Internet, people can do as they please in their piece of Blogtopia. (YSCTP!) (This is why here I use capital letters; if I were posting on Skippy it would be "skippy" and the upper case would be banned. But I like the uppercase letters fulfilling their role; makes it easier to read I think.) Thank you Skippy and Joe Gandleman for this service. But I rather doubt we have much to learn from these types save to remind ourselves how grim the current cultural struggle is becoming.

Yesterday G. D. Frogsdong, a Skippy regular contributor, brought to Skippydom yet another outrageous story of our times, of a young man whom it appears Marine recruiters actually kidnapped in an attempt to enlist him.

Let me quote the relevant bit here:

[At the home of young Axel Cobb, with no one else present...] The sergeant was friendly but, at the same time, aggressively insistent. This time, when Axel said, "Not interested," the sarge turned surly, snapping, "You're making a big (bleeping) mistake!"

Next thing Axel knew, the same sergeant and another recruiter showed up at the LaConner Brewing Co., the restaurant where Axel works. And before Axel, an older cousin and other co-workers knew or understood what was happening, Axel was whisked away in a car.

[In context of the threat above, and similar threats made to other potential recruits elsewhere, this looks like a coerced trip to me. Hence, kidnapping.--Mark]

"They said we were going somewhere but I didn't know we were going all the way to Seattle," Axel said.

Just a few tests. And so many free opportunities, the recruiters told him.

He could pursue his love of chemistry. He could serve anywhere he chose and leave any time he wanted on an "apathy discharge" if he didn't like it. And he wouldn't have to go to Iraq if he didn't want to.

[These are clearly instances of lies.]

At about 3:30 in the morning, Alex was awakened in the motel and fed a little something. Twelve hours later, without further sleep or food, he had taken a battery of tests and signed a lot of papers he hadn't gotten a chance to read. "Just formalities," he was told. "Sign here. And here. Nothing to worry about."

Meanwhile, his mother and sister were frantically searching for him. Guessing he might be at the Seattle center, they had to resort both to lies of their own and invading the premises without permission to locate him and remove him from these deceptive, manipulative clutches.

But, even after being told her son would be brought right out, her daughter spied him being taken down a separate hall and into another room. So she dashed down the hall and grabbed him by the arm.

"They were telling me I needed to 'be a man' and stand up to my family," Axel said.

What he needed, it turned out, was a lawyer.

Five minutes and $250 after an attorney called the recruiters, Axel's signed papers and his cell phone were in the mail.

Such tactics as the recruiters were using (this incident being only the culmination of a long campaign of harassment against this family) lead clearly to the "press gang" familiar in Britain in Napoleonic times. Have we actually gotten to that point yet? Perhaps not, depending on further details of the story and whether what is there is accurate or not, but it certainly fits into the general trend we have seen in many stories of increasingly aggressive recruiters who leave voice mail threatening kids with Federal prosecution if they don't sign up at the office, and the increasingly sweeping powers granted recruiters under No Child Left Behind and other Federal acts--not to mention the rising level of desperation the military brass must feel as the Iraqi war drags on, the already exaggerated terms of called-up reservists finally draw to a close, and the aWol administration continues to look for trouble in yet more theatres without reaching any finales in the current run of blockbusters. Without a draft of some kind a crisis seems quite inevitable and imminent. Why then should we discount a story of just such a draft--not sanctioned by law, but entirely possible in Bush's America--when it comes up?

But this is what Chuck Simmons did. Here's his comment, first on the thread:

Let's face it, that kid isn't the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree.

If they have a complaint, they should report the recruiters. The Corps will take action.

Chuck Simmins

My own response was outraged. Here we have both Social Darwinism, with the implication that a dumb kid would be little loss to the Republic, and a truly obtuse confidence that the system would take care of any irregularity. Why it should, if we ignore all such warnings, and if we don't care about dumb kids anyway, is not clear. There is no mention in the article of anything that suggests the young man is developmentally disabled, or learning impaired, or otherwise not intelligent--in fact he was attending a community college at the time he was shanghaied to the Seattle induction center.

What he is is the son of a Vietnam vet who died when Axel was four. His mother assured the article's writer, Susan Paynter of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, that "because of his own experience in the service, Marcia says enlistment for his son is the last thing Axel's dad would have wanted." Instead the kid was raised to be affable; "'I've been trained to be pretty friendly. I guess you might even say I'm kind of passive,' Axel told [Paynter] last week, just after his mother and older sister had tracked him to a Seattle testing center and sprung him on a ruse." But stock in trade of the recruiters' spiel was that he needed to join the Marines to "make his father proud," to "be a man," to support his limited-income mother.

As for Chuck's confidence that the system would square the matter out--in the months leading up to being kidnapped to Seattle, the Marines had been indulging in a drawn-out harassment campaign of frequent phone calls (which Mrs Cobb was told rightly or wrongly could not be blocked, being from US Government origins) that led to the family making specific requests in writing that the attempts at contact cease. A request that was disregarded, clearly, and the recruiters clearly, according to the article, adjusted their tactics to circumvent family support for Axel rather than respecting the family's unanimously expressed wishes. There is no statement that young Mr. Cobb was mentally impaired in the article then, which Simmins takes as self-evident, but a clear statement based on experience that complaints through channels meant nothing to the recruiters--that is there in black and white.

To this, Simmins's answer is to join in with a chorus of other charming rightists who take Donald Rumsfeld's word as gospel truth but accuse the family and/or reporter of making up the story for reasons of political manipulation, insanity, or "too much estrogen."

Paynter has followed up both calls from liberal/radicals like myself for prosecution of the Marines for kidnapping Axel Cobb (legally it was not kidnapping, though I still think that there are clear undertones of coercion in the threateningly persistent way these guys disregarded frequently being told no and requests they back off, and of course that muttered threat) and also the numerous rants of mindless patriots like Chuck who presume any young man in his situation must be a victim of female "moonbats" bent on denying his destiny as a man, which only the Marines or some other service can give him.

The lines are hardening I guess. It is growing more difficult to negotiate sharing a planet with people like this.

Last week I saw a pair of men in camouflage Army uniform in a grocery store. I considered going up to them and welcoming them back home, even if it was just for a leave. But later I got a closer look and saw that these guys were part of the Recruiting Corps. All my sympathy froze right out of my blood. "Why the hell aren't you in Iraq," I wondered about these healthy, cocky young guys. Why the hell aren't our recruiters disabled veterans anyway? We have plenty of them.

But presumably it is necessary for recruiters to present a glamorous image of the military and not remind potential recruits too pointedly of the possible sacrifices they might face having to make. (Quite a contrast with Robert Heinlein's service-based society in Starship Troopers, where all the recruiters were disabled vets!) It would be otherwise if we had an ethic of national service-but such an ethic would have to rest on government and society keeping faith with those who have served, and there is little of that, and sadly this has been the tradition rather than the exception in this great Republic of ours--the Veteran's administration being a traditional outlet for patronage and graft going back to its foundation.

Meanwhile today our rulers face a choice of retaining the current crop of chumps in Iraq past their specified terms (while needing to replace attrition just to maintain a given level of force) or somehow getting increasingly skeptical youth to join up.

We no longer have good reason to be confident that press-gang tactics will be prevented by the checks and balances of a liberal society. Here Chuck for one sees a report that it is happening and dismisses it on purely ideological grounds. Meanwhile, the percentages of parents who say they would encourage their children to serve in the military have halved from just last year--down to 23% or so from 43% last year. That I think is not so much a perception that the war in Iraq is tough and dangerous (it is of course, Chuck just lost a neighbor to it) as that the system as a whole will not keep what promises it makes.

To fight it in the first place the government called up legions of people who had already served extensively and did not volunteer; this voided any confidence we might have in the good faith of the government. Knowing now that the premises of the war were wrong can only undermine confidence; knowing that these were not mistakes but a deliberate campaign of deception makes the state the enemy. While an assault is mounted on every form of social support, from welfare and food stamps (which the families of soldiers often need to survive) to education, that offers an alternative to military service for those who are not connected, the treatment of actual veterans and people disabled while serving gets worse.

To charming Chuck of course his independent-minded Americanism manifests as contempt for all those who condemn anything Americans do as long as someone else is doing anything bad:

The point that Rumsfeld made, and that I echo is that there were investigations, and that people have been punished. The pseudo outrage that many claim to feel is just that. There is no outrage for other acts of cruelty or persecution committed by Saddam's thugs, or Moslems, or anyone but American soldiers.
That's a lie of course and he knows it: back when Saddam Hussein was America's agent in the region it was only leftists who pointed out his many crimes, including using the poison gas Donald Rumsfeld himself delivered with a personal handshake. Perhaps if Chuck defines "outrage" as surprise, he might score some points; it was no surprise to me that US authorities, particularly ones whose peacetime work was in US prisons, would cross the line into torture, nor that we would hold masses of prisoners with no grounds for trial for years incommunicado. It was anticipating abuses like this I was against the war. Unlike Chuck I have no faith that more than a fraction of the abuses that went on and go on have been investigated, let alone acted on. I am not shocked--but there is nothing pseudo about my outrage at our behavior, which to our shame is our behavior for which we are responsible directly. When someone else injures me I have a grievance, but when I hurt someone else I am the criminal and that is far worse.

But Chuck reads that a handful of low-ranking soldiers get court-martialed and a dozen or so officers suffer "administrative penalties" and for him that is the end of the matter; of course the USA cannot be systematically torturing people to achieve its policies--and if we do, why by golly they must deserve it. Why else might we do it? That we might be attempting to terrorize a nation, and by implicit threat the world, into compliance with wishes we cannot get by persuasion, is unthinkable to him. Only bad guys do stuff like that--and if we do, then we only do it to bad guys, so there! Therefore any and all criticism of US policy is read by Chuck as indiscriminate hatred of the people in uniform--people he individually has no respect for until they are killed anyway, judging by his remarks about near-Marine Cobb.

As a person from a military family, I don't distrust the uniform as such; I know there are decent people doing their best in those uniforms as well as a number of psychopathic thugs--always have been, always will be. And I suspect the consensus among the soldiers is cynical and skeptical and I hope that this sane majority in uniform will draw the line and put an end to the escalation of this madness. (It is no coincidence I think that there are far more veterans who are Democratic than Republican politicians these days--I have no idea what Chuck makes of that.)

The people I disbelieve are the current crop of civilian commanders who choose what the military will say and do, and who are among other things hell-bent on purging dissent from the ranks and putting in Christocratic commissars.

And meanwhile, we the American people have a special interest in what our side does because we are supposed to control that. If other people are rotten scum who do outrageous things, it does not follow we must do as they do in order to prevail. If we choose to behave that way then it is our responsibility.

The fact that many of the specific supervillains Chuck wants us to believe should be blamed for all problems today were quite recently deemed allies by our rulers. The very same irresponsible clique that today demands conformity and obedience so we can allegedly smash these scum were the ones who chose to raise up the likes of Saddam Hussein against Iran and Osama Bin Laden against the Soviets. So, I am doubly skeptical that falling in line behind the banner of a crusade will lead to any good outcome. It only compromises us further to go down that road. If our mission was to liberate Iraq from Hussein, we have done that, and all the nice constructive rebuilding Chuck likes to document on his site has always been delayed and offset by the ongoing destruction we meanwhile inflict. I don't believe we are trying to build democracy nor a "republic" in Iraq, we are consolidating a military/corporate colony and as long as we stay will be overseeing a revolving door of puppet governments.

Chuck says it is all justified by the need for Western Civilization to commit cultural genocide in the Middle East, breaking up Islam as a belief system. I actually think we might drift down that road and eventually do it, and be able to, technically, at the cost of considerable losses and the destruction of much of the world's remaining oil supply and probable global climatic and ecological catastrophe. This would create the huge global coalition against us I think we could not defeat, any more than Hitler could hold off the combined forces of USSR, USA, and Great Britain aided by the outraged peoples he had conquered.

But I don't actually think the rulers plan to conclude this crusade any more than Bush Sr planned to actually remove Saddam Hussein from power. I never believed any of Bush's military adventures had a good purpose or were the best way to defuse the threats that confront us; rather they only make them worse, and the leadership does not care about that because they reckon they can ride it out, and exposing the rest of us to the worsening danger only will make us more obedient. The idea is to set up a new ideological division to justify their own rule; the struggle itself is their "solution" and therefore I believe they have largely created the so-called enemy to play this role. It is a dangerous, stupid, destructive, wicked way of running things but I have to admit it seems to be working.

And that is why I think recruiters these days think they can get away with kidnapping and 101st Keyboarders like Chuck Simmins the "reasonable conservative" will cheer it on with Social Darwinist remarks. If we let people like him determine our policies, then the world will ultimately roll back our assault on it, probably over our dead bodies.


Blogger john_m_burt said...

You say "a deliberate campaign of deception makes the state the enemy". I concur. Or, as a famous leftist once said of King George III, "[h]e has abdicated Government here, by . . . waging War against us."

May the current George profit by the earlier example.

6/18/2005 2:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a load of ridiculous ^*$#@! liberal double talking CRAP! Please give me a break! I spent 20 years in the military and I don't know of any incidents of recruiters harrasing and assualting potential entlistees and thier families. I don't care whether or not you like/dislike the current President, stop DEMONIZING those of us who DO(without complaint), volunteer to serve this country! Mistreating prisoners? Well, BOOO-HOOO HOOO, SOB! I suppose Americans getting thier heads cut off on video means nothing to the same Liberal crybabies who whine about terrorists being "mistreated" at Gitmo or wherever. Please!

6/19/2006 2:41 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home