node created 2012/06/17
last changed 2013/02/04
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.
If you quietly accept and go along no matter what your feelings are, ultimately you internalize what you're saying, because it's too hard to believe one thing and say another. I can see it very strikingly in my own background. Go to any elite university and you are usually speaking to very disciplined people, people who have been selected for obedience. And that makes sense. If you've resisted the temptation to tell the teacher, "You're an asshole," which maybe he or she is, and if you don't say, "That's idiotic," when you get a stupid assignment, you will gradually pass through the required filters. You will end up at a good college and eventually with a good job.
He that is kind is free, though he is a slave; he that is evil is a slave, though he be a king.
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 Origins of Totalitarianism"
A person in a rented apartment must be able to lean out of his window and scrape off the masonry within arm's reach. And he must be allowed to take a long brush and paint everything outside within arm's reach. So that it will be visible from afar to everyone in the street that someone lives there who is different from the imprisoned, enslaved, standardised man who lives next door.
You rarely get the satisfaction in intellectual life where the person who is wrong has to acknowledge and grow from the experience of having been self-deceived for so long.
You cannot hope to build a better world without improving the individuals. To that end each of us must work for his own improvement, and at the same time share a general responsibility for all humanity, our particular duty being to aid those to whom we think we can be most useful.
Think deeply about things. Don’t just go along because that’s the way things are or that’s what your friends say. Consider the effects, consider the alternatives, but most importantly, just think.
There is no reason to accept the doctrines crafted to sustain power and privilege, or to believe that we are constrained by mysterious and unknown social laws. These are simply decisions made within institutions that are subject to human will and that must face the test of legitimacy. And if they do not meet the test, they can be replaced by other institutions that are more free and more just, as has happened often in the past.
Since no one really knows anything about God, those who think they do are just troublemakers.
The ways in which most men get their living, that is, live, are mere makeshifts, and a shirking of the real business of life, - chiefly because they do not know, but partly because they do not mean, any better. The rush to California, for instance, and the attitude, not merely of merchants, but of philosophers and prophets, so called, in relation to it, reflect the greatest disgrace on mankind. That so many are ready to live by luck, and so get the means of commanding the labor of others less lucky, without contributing any value to society! And that is called enterprise! I know of no more startling development of the immorality of trade, and all the common modes of getting a living. The philosophy and poetry and religion of such a mankind are not worth the dust of a puffball. The hog that gets his living by rooting, stirring up the soil so, would be ashamed of such company. If I could command the wealth of all the worlds by lifting my finger, I would not pay such a price for it
When man turns tyrant it is his own freedom he destroys.
Being compassionate is an act of resistance; it is different from being caring, or passive. Compassion, literally meaning ‘to suffer with’, is rooted in our loving desire to be alongside one another in our common struggle for a better spiritual and social reality. Compassion is an act of resistance because the compassionate cannot rest until all suffering has ended. Compassion is the recognition that none of us are free until we are all free.
Dig within. Within is the wellspring of good; and it is always ready to bubble up, if you just dig.
All nationalists have the power of not seeing resemblances between similar sets of facts. A British Tory will defend self-determination in Europe and oppose it in India with no feeling of inconsistency. Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage — torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians — which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by 'our' side.
Maybe young students must ask their parents the answer to this question. They should ask the principals of schools and colleges, elderly neighbours, relatives, friends, and even the strangers on the road. Once we all start asking ourselves about our apathy, maybe a few hearts will be stirred.
Oh, I've been following the bass line since James Brown invented it. I was a great disco queen.
Globalization is the result of powerful governments, especially that of the United States, pushing trade deals and other accords down the throats of the world’s people to make it easier for corporations and the wealthy to dominate the economies of nations around the world without having obligations to the peoples of those nations.
"Profit Over People: Neoliberalism and the Global Order" (1998)
The middle-class public generally isn't against arrest and/or execution by the government for secret crimes. What they are against is the arrest of people that they relate to, and who share their values. The only principled stands that they can understand are standing for children, animals, personal possessions, and customer service.
There are more than a few people, especially among the cultural élite, who still publicly regret the fact that Germany sent Einstein packing, without realizing that it was a much greater crime to kill little Hans Cohn from around the corner, even though he was no genius.
"Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil"
Mass education was designed to turn independent farmers into docile, passive tools of production. That was its primary purpose. And don't think people didn't know it. They knew it and they fought against it. There was a lot of resistance to mass education for exactly that reason. It was also understood by the elites. Emerson once said something about how we're educating them to keep them from our throats. If you don't educate them, what we call "education," they're going to take control - "they" being what Alexander Hamilton called the "great beast," namely the people. The anti-democratic thrust of opinion in what are called democratic societies is really ferocious. And for good reason. Because the freer the society gets, the more dangerous the great beast becomes and the more you have to be careful to cage it somehow.
I mean, what's the elections? You know, two guys, same background, wealth, political influence, went to the same elite university, joined the same secret society where you're trained to be a ruler - they both can run because they're financed by the same corporate institutions. At the Democratic Convention, Barack Obama said, 'only in this country, only in America, could someone like me appear here.' Well, in some other countries, people much poorer than him would not only talk at the convention - they'd be elected president. Take Lula. The president of Brazil is a guy with a peasant background, a union organizer, never went to school, he's the president of the second-biggest country in the hemisphere. Only in America? I mean, there they actually have elections where you can choose somebody from your own ranks. With different policies. That's inconceivable in the United States.
Interview by Wallace Shawn, October 19, 2004
Since the end of human action, as distinct from the end products of fabrication, can never be reliably predicted, the means used to achieve political goals are more often than not of greater relevance to the future world than the intended goals.
Journalists should ask a specific question: since these programs began operation shortly after September 11th, how many terrorist attacks were prevented SOLELY by information derived from this suspicionless surveillance that could not be gained via any other source? Then ask how many individual communications were ingested to acheive that, and ask yourself if it was worth it. Bathtub falls and police officers kill more Americans than terrorism, yet we've been asked to sacrifice our most sacred rights for fear of falling victim to it.

Further, it's important to bear in mind I'm being called a traitor by men like former Vice President Dick Cheney. This is a man who gave us the warrantless wiretapping scheme as a kind of atrocity warm-up on the way to deceitfully engineering a conflict that has killed over 4,400 and maimed nearly 32,000 Americans, as well as leaving over 100,000 Iraqis dead. Being called a traitor by Dick Cheney is the highest honor you can give an American, and the more panicked talk we hear from people like him, Feinstein, and King, the better off we all are. If they had taught a class on how to be the kind of citizen Dick Cheney worries about, I would have finished high school.
[Q: Isn't there a certain calculus that someone who is sitting in the shoes of a Condoleezza Rice can make, that they're responsible for the best outcome for American citizens, and there's an upside of going into Iraq which is we get one of the greatest material possessions in world's history, and there're downsides which are: we upset the international community, and maybe there's more terrorism. Couldn't you envision a calculus where they say, sure, that's the reason, and it's a good reason, let's do it. What's the flaw in the calculus?]

Oh, I think that's exactly their calculus. But then we ought to just be honest and say, "Look, we're a bunch of Nazis." So fine, let's just drop all the discussion, we save a lot of trees, we can throw out the newspapers and most of the scholarly literature, and just come out, state it straight, and tell the truth: we'll do whatever we want because we think we're gonna gain by it. And incidently, it's not American citizens who'll gain. They don't gain by this. It's narrow sectors of domestic power that the administration is serving with quite unusual dedication...
Talk titled "Why Iraq?" at Harvard University, November 4, 2002
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?
"Complaints and Grievances"
Anti-intellectualism … first got its strong grip on our ways of thinking because it was fostered by an evangelical religion that also purveyed many humane and democratic sentiments. It made its way into our politics because it became associated with our passion for equality. It has become formidable in our education partly because our educational beliefs are evangelically egalitarian. Hence, as far as possible, our anti-intellectualism must be excised from the benevolent impulses upon which it lives by constant and delicate acts of intellectual surgery which spare these impulses themselves.
"Anti-Intellectualism in American Life" (1974)
Anti-Semitism, in short, is not merely conflated with anti-Zionism, but even extended to Zionists who are critical of Israeli practices. Correspondingly, authentic anti-Semitism on the part of those whose services to Israeli power are deemed appropriate is of no account.

These two aspects of "the real anti-Semitism," ADL-style, were illustrated during the 1988 U.S. presidential campaign. The Democratic Party was denounced for anti-Semitism on the grounds that its convention dared to debate a resolution calling for a two-state political settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In contrast, when an array of Nazi sympathizers and anti-Semites were exposed in August 1988 in the Bush presidential campaign, the major Jewish organizations and leaders were, for the most part, "curiously blasé about both the revelations and Bush's response to them," largely ignoring the matter, John Judis comments. The New Republic dismissed as a minor matter the "antique and anemic forms of anti-Semitism" of virulent anti-Semites and Nazi and fascist sympathizers at a high level of the Republican campaign organization. The editors stressed, rather, the "comfortable haven for Jew-hatred on the left, including the left wing of the Democratic Party," parts of the Jackson campaign, and "the ranks of increasingly well-organized Arab activists," all of whom supported the two-state resolution at the Party convention and thus qualify as "Jew-haters."

The point is that the ultra-right Republicans are regarded as properly supportive of Israel by hard-line standards, while the Democratic Party reveals its "Jew-hatred" by tolerating elements that believe that Palestinians are human beings with the same rights as Jews, including the right of national self-determination alongside of Israel. Following the lead of the major Jewish organizations, the Democrats carefully avoided the discovery of anti-Semites and Nazis in the Republican campaign headquarters and the continuing close links after exposure.

The same point was illustrated by the revelation, at the same time, that the Reagan Department of Education had once again refused federal funds for a highly praised school history program on the Holocaust. It was first rejected in 1986 "after a review panel member complained that the views of the Nazi Party and the Ku Klux Klan were not represented." Republican faithfuls charged the program with "psychological manipulation, induced behavioral change and privacy-invading treatment" (Phyllis Schlafly); citing "leftist authorities" such as New York Times columnist Flora Lewis, British historian A.J.P. Taylor, and Kurt Vonnegut; being "profoundly offensive to fundamentalists and evangelicals"; and even being "anti-war, anti-hunting" and likely to "induce a guilt trip." A senior Education Department official attributed the rejections to "those on the extreme right wing of the Republican Party." In 1986 and 1987, this particular program had been "singled out for a refusal." In 1988, when the program "was the top-rated project in the category [of history, geography, and civics], created by then-Education Secretary William J. Bennett," the entire category was eliminated.

But "the extreme right wing of the Republican Party," whatever its attitudes towards Nazis and the Holocaust, is adequately pro-Israel. There was no detectable protest, and the issue did not arise in the last stages of the election campaign.

The cheapening of the concept of anti-Semitism and the ready tolerance for anti-Arab racism go hand-in-hand, expressing the same political commitments. All of this, again, is merely "antique and anemic anti-Semitism."
I remember once asking my mother, ‘How did you do in your studies?’ She replied, ‘What are you talking about? How could you study under those conditions?’.

When she saw the segregation of African-Americans, whether at a lunch counter or in the school system, that was, for her, like the prologue to the Nazi holocaust. Whereas many Jews now say, Never compare (Elie Wiesel’s refrain, ‘It’s bad, but it’s not The Holocaust’), my mother’s credo was, Always compare. She gladly and generously made the imaginative leap to those who were suffering, wrapping and shielding them in the embrace of her own suffering.

For my mother, the Nazi holocaust was a chapter in the long history of the horror of war. It was not itself a war – she was emphatic that it was an extermination, not a war – but it was a unique chapter within the war. So for her, war was the ultimate horror. When she saw Vietnamese being bombed during the Vietnam War, it was the Nazi holocaust. It was the bombing, the death, the horror, the terror, that she herself had passed through. When she saw the distended bellies of starving children in Biafra, it was also the Nazi holocaust, because she remembered her own pangs of hunger in the Warsaw Ghetto.
A human being is a part of a whole, called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest... a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.