What I have most wanted to do throughout the past ten years is to make political writing into an art. My starting point is always a feeling of partisanship, a sense of injustice. When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art’. I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing. But I could not do the work of writing a book, or even a long magazine article, if it were not also an aesthetic experience. Anyone who cares to examine my work will see that even when it is downright propaganda it contains much that a full-time politician would consider irrelevant. I am not able, and do not want, completely to abandon the world view that I acquired in childhood. So long as I remain alive and well I shall continue to feel strongly about prose style, to love the surface of the earth, and to take a pleasure in solid objects and scraps of useless information. It is no use trying to suppress that side of myself. The job is to reconcile my ingrained likes and dislikes with the essentially public, non-individual activities that this age forces on all of us.
There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;
And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white,
Robins will wear their feathery fire
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;
And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.
Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree
If mankind perished utterly;
And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn,
Would scarcely know that we were gone.
Never has our future been more unpredictable, never have we depended so much on political forces that cannot be trusted to follow the rules of common sense and self-interest—forces that look like sheer insanity, if judged by the standards of other centuries.
The only justification for repressive institutions is material and cultural deficit. But such institutions, at certain stages of history, perpetuate and produce such a deficit, and even threaten human survival.
On the third day I was there, this guy who had picked me up in the Jeep, a corporal who I was ultimately going to replace, he and I were in the battalion intelligence section, we were sent down to the tractor park, the amphibious tractor park to meet a bunch of detainees. It was our responsibility to take care prisoners, and detainees were a classification of civilians, they were not combatants; they could be detained for questioning, which is why they were called detainees.
And Jimmy and I went down to the tractor park and two tractors came in, they had a whole bunch of Vietnamese up on top high flat-topped vehicles about eight or nine feet tall, and as the tractors wheeled into the park the Marines up on top immediately began hurling these people off, and they were bound hand and foot, so they had no way of breaking their falls, and they were old men, women, children, no young men, and I couldn't believe these guys were treating these people this way, and I turned to Jimmy and said, I grabbed him by the arm and said "What are those guys doing? We're supposed to be helping these people." And Jimmy turned to me and he looked at my hands on his arm, I sort of took them off, and he said "Ehrhart, you better keep the mouth shut until you know what's going on around here." I think it was at that point that I realized things were not quite what I was expecting.
It went downhill from there, and again I can't even begin to explain in the space of time that you have all the things that went into it, but I began to understand, it became obvious that the enemy was the very people in these villages around us, and we were in a very heavily populated area at that time, they were the enemy, or at least the enemy was out there somewhere and we couldn't tell one from another. And day after day our patrols went out and we ran into snipers and mines and snipers and mines and snipers and mines. I saw four armed soldiers the first eight months I was in Vietnam, and yet our battalion during that same period of time sustained 75 mining and sniping incidents per month, over half of them resuling in casualties. This is for a unit of about a thousand men. But there was no one to fight back at, and you begin to think, these people are the enemy, they're all the enemy. And then you go through villages and, you know, you get sniped at and so you call an airstrike in on the village and the whole village goes up, or you go through a place and you search it, and you burn houses and blow them up. The common perception, the notion I had when I was in high school was it was the Vietcong terrorized the Vietnamese population, forced them to fight against the Americans on pain of death. What I began to understand in Vietnam was that they didn't need to do things like that, all the had to do was let a Marine patrol go through a village and whatever was left of that village, they had all the recruits that they needed. I began to understand why the Vietnamese didn't greet me with open arms, why they in fact hated me, but of course that didn't change the fact that my friends were getting killed and injured every day and the only place that you could focus your own anger and fear was on those civilians who were there, and so it was this self-perpetuating mechanism: the longer that we stayed in Vietnam the more Vietcong there were, because we created them, we produced them.
None of that distilled itself into the clear kind of expression that I'm presenting now. What I began to understand within days and which became patently clear within months was that what was going on here was not what I had been told, what was going on here was nuts, and I wanted to get out. I knew if I was still alive on March the 5th 1968 they'd stick me on an airplane in Danang we used to call it the freedom bird and I could fly away and forget the whole thing. Turned out not to be quite so easy to forget it, but that was the notion, and certainly my last eight to nine months I ceased to think, I quite literally ceased to think about why I was there, or what I was doing. The sole purpose for my being in Vietnam at that point was to stay alive until I could get out.
And the reason for that is, you know, the kinds of questions that began to present themselves were just.. the questions themselves were ugly and I didn't want to know the answers. It's like banging on a door, you knock on a door, and the door opens slightly and behind that door it's dark and there's loud noises coming like there's wild animals in there or something. And you peer into the darknees and you can't see what's there but you can all this ugly stuff.. do you want to step into that room? No way, you just sorta back out quietly, pull the door shut behind you, and walk away from it. And that's what was going on, those questions, the questions themselves were too ugly to even ask, let alone try to deal with the answers.
The criminal underworld has figured out how to do what industrialists figured out 50 years ago: If you take just a little from a lot of people, you can get very rich, and those people won't fight back because the cost of retaliation is higher than the loss. As a result, people everywhere are being nickel and dimed to death.
The only possible metaphor one may conceive of for the life of the mind is the sensation of being alive. Without the breath of life, the human body is a corpse; without thinking, the human mind is dead.
The only way you can write the truth is to assume that what you set down will never be read. Not by any other person, and not even by yourself at some later date. Otherwise you begin excusing yourself. You must see the writing as emerging like a long scroll of ink from the index finger of your right hand; you must see your left hand erasing it.
The world gets improved in fits and starts, in small ways more than in large ones, and thanks to the unseen, unthought infrastructures that undergird it more than the civic or scientific or artistic victories we celebrate in the streets or in the theaters.
They couldn't before because public would be sensitive. Now with checkpoints everywhere, NSA spying, cavity searches, homeless people beaten down to death by cops getting away with it, DOJ declining to investigate bank scandals, IRS, Benghazi, Fast and Furious, they do not need logos with pink teddy bears and stills of a happy family holding hands with smiling children on the beach. The majority of public IS already got used to this tyranny. Coming forward with less PR is a next, obvious and logical step. After that: huge military boot on your face!
Google Plus is like the movie Dark City. It's a group of technical aliens picking apart the human experience, trying different scenarios in order to find out what the human soul is.
Once per day, humans wake up and find themselves in its meticulously-constructed parallel universe, doing things as ordinary humans do on other websites. Their activities, such as appreciating music and searching for lovers, feel familiar, necessary and meaningful, but at the same time, the unsettling atmosphere prevents the existential questions from settling deeply repressed where they should be. Instead, we're left wondering, "Why are we doing this here?" Isn't there something better? Is there a Shell Beach out there somewhere? Couldn't I just do this all myself on 1999-style website and live a more natural life?
Give us an open (hardware) phone and OS plus apps will follow. Manufacturers however would hate this because the phone (tablet, etc.) as a platform allowed them to undo what Open Source achieved in the last decades on personal computers: now they have again a piece of hardware they can fully control; the software is closed and incredibly dumb, and it forces you to connect to online services to do anything. We're sort of back to mainframes, that's like killing over 40 years of IT development!
Ah, yeah. We're gonna go to Mars. And then of course we're gonna colonize deep space. With our microwave hot dogs and plastic vomit, fake dog shit and cinnamon dental floss, lemon-scented toilet paper and sneakers with lights in the heels. And all these other impressive things we've done down here. But let me ask you this: what are we gonna tell the intergalactic council of ministers the first time one of our teenage mothers throws their newborn baby into a dumpster? How are we gonna explain that to the space people? How are we gonna let them know that our ambassador was only late for the meeting because his breakfast was cold and he had to spend half an hour punching his wife around the kitchen? And what are they gonna think when they find out, its just a local custom, that over 80 million women in the Third world have had their clitorises forcibly removed in order to reduce their sexual pleasure so they won't cheat on their husbands? Can't you just sense how eager the rest of the universe is for us to show up?
My own concern is primarily the terror and violence carried out by my own state, for two reasons. For one thing, because it happens to be the larger component of international violence. But also for a much more important reason than that; namely, I can do something about it. So even if the U.S. was responsible for 2 percent of the violence in the world instead of the majority of it, it would be that 2 percent I would be primarily responsible for. And that is a simple ethical judgment. That is, the ethical value of one's actions depends on their anticipated and predictable consequences. It is very easy to denounce the atrocities of someone else. That has about as much ethical value as denouncing atrocities that took place in the 18th century.
If people could understand what computing was about, the iPhone would not be a bad thing. But because people don’t understand what computing is about, they think they have it in the iPhone, and that illusion is as bad as the illusion that Guitar Hero is the same as a real guitar.