January 20, 2015

American Sniper, and the Murderers Hall of Infamy

Just ten days ago, our wondrously life-affirming Western, and especially American, culture offered the spectacle of talk radio hosts giggling as they tried to determine the best way to celebrate the murders of those accused of the Charlie Hebdo killings.

But our glorious culture is capable of achievements greater by far than a few hosts laughing about the deaths of less than a handful of people. When it comes to nauseating spectacles that celebrate violence and bloody death, we are always outdoing ourselves. Perhaps "celebrate" isn't quite the right word in this context. "Consecrate" captures the dynamic more accurately; truly, violence. especially gratuitous violence, and bloody death, the bloodier the better, constitute our civic religion these days.

So this week began with the inspiring news that huge audiences flocked to see the new film, American Sniper. The enormous success of the film, which according to most reports took all the Hollywood-watchers and predicters by surprise (important reminder: so-called "experts" in any and every field -- foreign policy, economics, even Hollywood -- are the last people whose judgment you should trust, save for exceptions so rare they fail to constitute a serious challenge to the rule's application) is described as a "juggernaut," with the film expected to gross more than $105 million for the four-day holiday weekend: "The film is still setting mega-records including the largest January-February opening ever, the largest MLK four-day haul and an uber-career high for [Clint] Eastwood [the director[."

American Sniper is the story of Chris Kyle, a Navy SEAL who served four tours of duty during the war in Iraq. He is considered to be the most lethal sniper in American history, with 160 confirmed kills, out of 255 probable kills. I have not seen the film yet (and have no plans to do so in the near future), but I'm reading Kyle's book. A number of reviews of the movie confirm that Kyle's own view of what he did, as stated in his book, is faithfully rendered in the film.

Kyle's view of his actions is very straightforward and uncomplicated. He considered all those he killed to be "savages" who represented "despicable evil." Kyle's total of 160 confirmed kills may represent a record, but Kyle declares: "I only wish I had killed more."

Kyle also says this:
I loved what I did. I still do. If circumstances were different -- if my family didn't need me -- I'd be back in a heartbeat. I'm not lying or exaggerating to say it was fun. I had the time of my life as a SEAL.
After reading many reviews and comments about the film, I am confident in stating that the consensus view of Kyle and his "achievement" is that he was a hero. The film, and most members of the audience, are profoundly sympathetic to Kyle. They are keenly aware of the enormous pain Kyle suffered -- all of which had to do with fellow Americans who were killed, especially those Americans whose lives he thought he might have saved. Neither Kyle, nor his book, nor, it appears, the film expends even a moment's energy or thought for the suffering of the Iraqis. (There are brief mentions in his book of concern for those Iraqis who were "loyal to the new government," but it is hardly a subject of great moment to him. And those are the only Iraqis who merit a glimmer of compassion. All the rest of the Iraqis embody "despicable evil.")

Kyle's attitude toward the murders he committed -- that "it was fun," and that he "had the time of [his] life as a SEAL," immediately put me in mind of Matthew Hoh. You may recall that five years ago Hoh was much praised and lauded by the usual suspects among "dissident" writers because he resigned from the military "in protest about the Afghan war." Hoh did not deserve such praise: his only objection to the Afghan war was that it was "ineffective" and "counterproductive," not that it was a war of aggression, or that he objected to the U.S. government's foreign policy of ceaseless bombings, invasions, covert operations, and so on, all for the purpose of American global hegemony. Hoh had no objection at all to any of that. He supported that policy.

I explained why I assessed Hoh's actions in a radically different way from those commentators who praised him in two articles: "The Denial Continues, and the Horror Remains Unrecognized," and "Desperately Seeking Peacenik, Pot-Smoking Hippies." In the first piece, I set forth what I regarded as the worst of Hoh's own comments about his military experience:
"I'm not some peacenik, pot-smoking hippie who wants everyone to be in love," Hoh said. Although he said his time in Zabul was the "second-best job I've ever had," his dominant experience is from the Marines, where many of his closest friends still serve.

"There are plenty of dudes who need to be killed," he said of al-Qaeda and the Taliban. "I was never more happy than when our Iraq team whacked a bunch of guys."
Chris Kyle: "It was fun. ... I had the time of my life as a SEAL." Matthew Hoh: "I was never more happy than when our Iraq team whacked a bunch of guys."

Bloodthirsty killers, brothers-at-arms, soulmates. If you wish to nominate Kyle and Hoh to the Murderers Hall of Infamy, I will offer no objection.

Following Hoh's comments, I offered a concise explanation of why Hoh's view is unforgivably wrong. I repeat it here, for this passage can be applied with full force to Kyle's evaluation of his experience. (Kyle provides a "justification" of his kills which is unsurprisingly identical to Hoh's: "Everyone I shot in Iraq was trying to harm Americans or Iraqis loyal to the new government.") I wrote:
The critical facts are few in number, and remarkably easy to understand: Iraq never threatened the U.S. in any serious manner. Our leaders knew Iraq did not threaten us. Despite what should have been the only fact that mattered, the U.S. invaded and occupied, and still occupies, a nation that never threatened us and had never attacked us. Under the applicable principles of international law and the Nuremberg Principles, the U.S. thus committed a monstrous, unforgivable series of war crimes. Those who support and continue the occupation of Iraq are war criminals -- not because I say so, but because the same principles that the U.S. applies to every other nation, but never to the U.S. itself, necessitate that judgment and no other.

While it may be true that some "dudes" threatened Hoh's life and the lives of those with whom he served, Hoh could never have been threatened in that manner but for the fact that he was in Iraq as part of a criminal war of aggression. In other words, he had no right to be in Iraq in the first place. And if he had not been, he would never have been in a position to "whack[] a bunch of guys."

Hoh joined the U.S. military voluntarily. He was obliged to understand this.
Kyle and Hoh could have acted differently. In the earlier article, I discussed the notable, genuinely inspiring example of Ehren Watada, who refused to serve: "My participation would make me party to war crimes." Watada deserves great praise and admiration; Kyle and Hoh absolutely do not.

In the last few days, I've heard and read many awful and frequently idiotic remarks about the great "success" of American Sniper. I've heard how many audiences apparently cheer wildly at the conclusion of the film, in approval of this portrait of a great American hero. A number of commentators insist that Americans are "starved" for this version of "unapologetic patriotism."

In the midst of this blood-drenched celebration of unnecessary, avoidable murder, I heard one especially stupid comment. A local Los Angeles radio host lamented that, during his time in office, Mr. Obama has never uttered Chris Kyle's name. Obama has failed to grant the recognition due this great hero. When I heard that, I had an odd, funny thought. Of course Obama isn't going to mention Kyle, I thought. Kyle is his competition.

Obama is the Murderer-in-Chief. He devoted years and enormous energy to becoming the Murderer-in-Chief. And you expect him to share this great achievement with some two-bit sniper? 160 confirmed kills? That's a morning's work for Obama. Surely we recall that Obama devotedly continues -- and expands -- the infernal work of American Empire in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Syria, Somalia, and in countless countries around the globe. Surely we recognize that Obama considers the lives of tens of thousands of people, most of them entirely innocent by any standard, as completely expendable in the pursuit of American global hegemony.

On top of this, we surely recall that Obama has a Kill List, and that his Murder Program has been widely publicized in the nation's leading newspapers. The U.S. government has been at great pains to make sure that we all know about the Kill List and the Murder Program in excruciating detail -- and that we know that Obama himself is critical in directing all these operations. The U.S. government, led by Obama, claims that it may kill anyone it chooses, anywhere in the world, for any reason it offers, or for no reason at all. Why would Obama even notice a pipsqueak like Kyle?

Yet the truth is that the overwhelming majority of Americans recognize and remember none of this. Although the Kill List was much written about for a brief period, it has joined the long list of horrors in the cesspool of Americans' amnesia. It's ancient history; who cares about it any longer? Almost ho one. The truth is far worse than that: as I have noted, even during and immediately after the extensive coverage of the Kill List and the Murder Program, as far as most Americans were concerned, all the stories and discussion "caused almost no reaction at all ... It was as if nothing of any significance had been said."

And so we have huge numbers of Americans eager to see this celebration of murder in a criminal war of aggression, and a film which offers an undiluted version of Kyle's view of the Iraqis he killed as embodying "despicable evil." While I've seen a few reports indicating that the film may offer a somewhat more complex perspective, and might even cause a viewer to wonder if the war was "worth it" -- but solely because of the great suffering endured by Kyle, not by the Iraqis -- this obviously is not the primary reason for the film's success. Even the reviews that claim this greater "complexity" for the film stress that the film is enormously sympathetic to Kyle. It is certain that the film does not even begin to approach the idea that Kyle was a serial murderer, who killed people when he had no right to do so -- and when he had no right even to be in their country.

In short: Kyle committed a series of unforgivable crimes. What he did was unforgivably wrong. and unforgivably evil.

That view does not translate into boffo box office, not in these United States of America.

What, then, do I consider the real explanation for the film's notable success? One of the essays linked above provided that explanation, in two brief opening paragraphs. From "To Honor the Value of a Single Life: The First Murder":
We live in a culture drenched with cruelty, violence and blood. From our earliest days as children, we are taught to hate those who are not like us. We learn that compassion and empathy are signs of weakness, and failings to be viewed with contempt. By the time we are adults, most people have internalized these lessons completely. They refuse even to question them. They will despise you, or simply ignore you, if you dare to challenge these beliefs.

We are also taught that the fundamental virtue is obedience to authority. Whatever else we may question -- and, in truth, there is no longer much at all that may be questioned -- the inherent goodness of the primary authority figures we are taught to revere is an absolute that we must accept. The authority figures we are told we must obey, if, that is, we wish to be civilized and decent, are our parents in the first instance; as we grow older, and when the roots of obedience are left to grow and strengthen, as they are in almost every case, the same mechanism encompasses additional authority figures: political leaders, and the military and police, are among the prime examples.
American Sniper mixes these elements together in a lethal combination. Americans' comfort with extreme cruelty and violence, and their unquestioning acceptance of the necessity of obedience to authority (Kyle repeatedly stresses that he was "simply" doing "his duty," but any questions as to why he chose this duty are ignored entirely), are offered to audiences as a version of themselves they view with great favor. Indeed, they revel in it.

The great success of American Sniper immediately follows the latest exercise in the ongoing demonization of Islam and Muslims. Americans' penchant for violence and unending aggression requires the existence of targets who "deserve" whatever they get, even and often especially when what they get is brutality, torture and murder. Empire is greatly skilled and inventive at feeding the appetites of this ravenous monster. Given recent developments, the horrors will not be ending anytime soon. It is more likely that the pressure grows for new explosions of these hatreds. The dedication to violence demands an outlet. Tell many Americans that their hatred and their desire to wreak vengeance are "justified," and they will love you for it.

At this point, it doesn't appear that most Americans can even imagine a profoundly different way of living, let alone begin to make it real. The deadly disease that consumes America can be described in many ways -- but, at least for me, "living" isn't one of them.

January 13, 2015

The Propaganda War: The Horror of the Paris Rally

To amuse myself for a brief moment -- and perhaps you, too, dear reader, for I assuredly shall do my best not to lose sight of your concerns in what follows -- I might invoke the spirit of Master Dickens, as revealed in his work celebrating the holiday just recently passed. I therefore state:

Any significant intellectual culture, especially any aspect of that always exceedingly fragile enterprise that rises to challenge established authority and its numerous, labyrinthine dictates of shoulds and should nots, what is permitted and what is not, the limits of correct thought and professed belief, and uncountable and often incomprehensible related matters, is dead: to begin with. Any significant intellectual culture is as dead as a door-nail.

I state this proposition in Master Dickens' manner: emphatically.

I do this not only to amuse myself, if only momentarily, but to keep from going mad. As I further consider the Charlie Hebdo spectacle, its significance and implications grow ever more ominous and threatening. I watch this spectacle, and I want to scream: What is wrong with everyone? Don't you understand what is going on here?

A few people do, and I am always deeply grateful to encounter them. But for the most part, everyone -- and here, I speak of everyone in the West, which is where I reside, most unhappily at present, and where you probably read this -- has enthusiastically rallied to the cause of "freedom," and "freedom of the press" and "freedom of speech" more specifically. Almost everyone screams: Je suis Charlie!

So many damned liars. Allowing for the extremely rare exception, not one of the throng shouting "Je suis Charlie" is at any kind of risk at all, nor do they ever intend to be, not if they can help it. I see a crowd of millions, every single goddamned person holding aloft a sign emblazoned with big, bold lettering:
I AM ONE OF A KIND!

I AM UNIQUE!!

I AM UNREPEATABLE!!!
The message loses its charm around the fifty-thousandth repetition, roughly speaking. As I noted a few days ago, uniqueness, as well as courage, abhors a mob. We might be so bold as to say that seeking the comfort of the mob vitiates the message.

So. Goddamned liars, a lot of them. Before proceeding to far graver matters, let us consider a ridiculous incident that reveals just how transparently dishonest the Hebdo spectacle is. At the Golden Globe Awards this past Sunday night, Margaret Cho appeared in a running comic bit as a North Korean general, Cho Young-ja. (It was very labored and not notably clever or original. Perhaps you expected Oscar Wilde? This is Hollywood, my dear.) Without missing a beat, numerous critics pounced on this offensively "racist" attempt at humor.

Even Deadline Hollywood made the connection in its opening paragraph:
Comedian Margaret Cho has responded to critics who deemed her North Korea-skewering Golden Globes appearance racist – ironically enough, in an evening filled with achievements for diverse voices and cries of “Je Suis Charlie” in the name of freedom of expression.
Aside from the fact that "freedom of expression" allows some racist or otherwise offensive statements but not others -- hardly an unimportant point, and one which will become worryingly significant as we proceed -- doesn't Cho get some kind of special dispensation here? As she pointed out in one of her responses: "I'm of mixed North/South Korean descent - you imprison, starve and brainwash my people you get made fun of by me" Since Cho is of of mixed North/South Korean descent, doesn't she have the right to engage in this sort of humor, in the same way that blacks can use the word "nigger"? I'm just asking; there are lots and lots of rules about all this, and it's easy to get confused.

But any confusion dissipates when we consider the Paris rally. Let's begin with the description in The New York Times:
More than a million people joined over 40 presidents and prime ministers on the streets of Paris on Sunday in the most striking show of solidarity in the West against the threat of Islamic extremism since the Sept. 11 attacks.

Responding to terrorist strikes that killed 17 people in France and riveted worldwide attention, Jews, Muslims, Christians, atheists and people of all races, ages and political stripes swarmed central Paris beneath a bright blue sky, calling for peace and an end to violent extremism.

The Interior Ministry described the demonstration as the largest in modern French history, with as many as 1.6 million people. ...

The world leaders — including President François Hollande of France, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority and Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain — joined the march in a solemn line. They moved slowly, clasping arms to show solidarity with the victims. The crowd roared in approval.
Two facts of paramount importance must be noted. First, the target of this massive demonstration was Islamic extremism. The Times (as well as various commentators) tries to camouflage this a bit, with the reference to "violent extremism" -- but, c'mon. When a million and a half Charlies gather together -- each one as unique as a fucking snowflake, don't you know -- they do so in response to the Hebdo murders. The world's view is that those murders are a horrifying instance of barbaric Islamic extremism.

The second fact is painfully obvious, and that obviousness is an essential part of its camouflage. Most of the coverage of the Paris rally focuses on the size of the crowd -- over a million and a half people, all marching in support of freedom of expression! -- and adds as a kind of postscript that over 40 "world leaders" "joined" the demonstration. This is completely backwards. When over 40 "world leaders" enthusiastically take part in an event of this kind, that fact alone establishes a single incontrovertible, irrefutable fact: whatever is happening, whatever views are being expressed, none of it is any threat whatsoever to power and authority. More specifically, it is no threat whatsoever to State power. No wonder all those world leaders were eager to take part: the largest demonstration "in modern French history" was nothing less than a glorification of State power.

This truth becomes still more obvious when we remember the actual records of the world leaders in question. Of course, almost no one chose to remember these particular facts. But Daniel Wickham did (via Chris Floyd) in a series of tweets. Here are a few examples of, as Wickham puts it, "the staunch defenders of the free press attending the solidarity rally in Paris today":
Prime Minister of Davutoglu of Turkey, which imprisons more journalists than any other country in the world
Prime Minister Jomaa of Tunisia, which recently jailed blogger Yassine Ayan for 3 years for "defaming the army"
Sec-Gen of NATO, who are yet to be held to account for deliberately bombing and killing 16 Serbian journos in '99
Prime Minister Kopacz of Poland, which raided a magazine to seize recordings embarrassing for the ruling party
Perhaps it would be unkind to say that all those Charlies in Paris (and the millions of additional Charlies around the world) are fools, but the characterization is not inaccurate. But it is more to the point to state that all these Charlies are pawns in a spectacle that served to strengthen the foundations of State power. Moreover, and in an especially hideous twist, the demonstration -- with all those world leaders greeted by a crowd that "roared in approval" -- served to bestow specifically moral approval and encouragement to State power.

Given the growing swaths of destruction, brutality and murder that are the product of State power in recent years, and of Western State power in particular, one might have thought that moral approval and encouragement is the last thing one would choose to gift to the monsters who lead those States, at least if one seeks a better world that is significantly more compassionate and caring than the world in which we now live. And note how cheaply the States in question purchased this gift: their leaders offer a few grunts indicating their supposed approval of "freedom of expression" and "free speech," and the crowd happily accedes to their power. No one troubles to recall the chasm that separates what these States claim to support and what they actually do. The leaders of these States now have still further confirmation that as long as they mumble the right words and slogans at critical moments, they can act in the most oppressive and brutal ways -- and they will never be called to account.

And, my friends, we must add still one more element to appreciate more fully the horror of the Paris rally. Here I turn to an article by Rafia Zakaria, "Let's talk about the other dead journalists" (via The Angry Arab News Service). I encourage you to read Zakaria's article in full. Here are some key excerpts (the highlights are mine):
In France, as elsewhere in the Western world, the attack on Charlie Hebdo is being lamented, and the dead journalists are being celebrated as heroes whose work exemplifies a fearless and defiant pursuit of freedom of expression. However, this fight for freedom of speech is not always seen as a Muslim struggle. Yet the number of Muslim journalists killed defending journalism tells a different story. More than half of 61 journalists killed in 2014 were Muslims, many working in conflict-affected countries such as Iraq, Syria, Pakistan and Somalia. But few have received the recognition or commemoration accorded to Western journalists or a handful who worked for Western media outlets. ...

[T]he evident double standard and selective outrage illuminates the hierarchy of privilege in our moral reckoning in response to acts of terrorism. It is a dynamic that becomes visible only when Western journalists are targeted. ...

[The] invisibility [of the deaths of Muslim journalists] is part of the routine eliding over terrorism’s brown, Muslim victims that allows the extremists’ unexamined xenophobia and divisive narrative of us versus them to prevail and persist. Failure to mourn and recognize the sacrifices of terrorism victims equally carries enormous risk. The aversion to terrorism only when it reaches the West or kills Westerners suggests our ease with the banishment of terrorism to some distant terrains.
...

Muslims are more likely to experience war and displacement than any other religious group. Swaths of predominantly Muslim countries such as Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan are in the throes of civil strife. Millions of Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans have become refugees in already taxed neighboring countries such as Jordan and Pakistan. Not a single person in these countries remains unaffected by the ravages of violence, by grisly massacres at schools and mosques and restaurants and markets. Yet there are some in the West who insist on turning to these beleaguered, injured and maimed populations to demand collective apology for the acts of any and every killer with a Muslim background.
Perhaps the most profoundly disturbing part of Zakaria's argument comes toward the conclusion of her article:
While our selective outrage ignores the pain and sacrifices of Muslims, the generalization imagines all Muslims as perpetrators of terrorism. ...

The horror of terrorism is meant to eviscerate context. It incites the desire for protection and revenge. The collective blame placed on Muslims, the thoughtless investment of blame and suspicion and the highlighting of freedom of expression as a solely Western value is a victory for extremists. Our selective indignation also gives credence to the idea that all the world’s Muslims are already terrorists or potential terrorists. Muslims should not be recognized only when a few of them kill for terrorism and be ignored when thousands of them die at its hands.
For over a decade, the West, led by the bloodthirsty and barbaric government of the United States, has made war on Muslims. The West has invaded and bombed Muslim countries, and tortured, imprisoned and murdered Muslims in a procession of horrors that continue today, and that stretch into a limitless future of pain and suffering. Western leaders have sometimes been at pains to insist that the West is not at war with Islam, but only with Islamic extremism. More and more, the mask slips. More and more, we hear people say, occasionally with regret, but usually with barely concealed glee, "Oh, yes, the real problem is Islam itself." The record amassed to date establishes that the West's enemy is indeed Islam, and Muslims: not only does the West ignore the deaths of Muslim journalists, but the deaths of Muslims in general. The number of murdered Muslims who are "innocent" even by Western standards is beyond reckoning, although Western leaders and opinionmakers steadfastly refuse to acknowledge the fact.

In that connection, consider the difference in scale involved. Twelve people were murdered at the Charlie Hebdo offices. Yes, that is a terrible crime. Some years ago, in September 2007, I attempted to capture the difference in scale by addressing Western narcissism, and the narcissism of Americans in particular. Because Western lives, and Western deaths, are of special significance, and unquestionably of far greater importance than the deaths of assorted brown people in other parts of the world, I made some calculations:
Since Americans' narcissism is so all-encompassing, and because the superior value of American lives and goals as compared to those of all other peoples is regarded as an axiom never to be questioned, let's put these horrors in terms that Americans might understand. Let's make it about you.

For ease of computation, we'll use approximate figures. Assume the U.S.'s war crimes have resulted in one million deaths. That is roughly 1/26 of the total Iraqi population. An equivalent number of American deaths would be 11.5 million people. 3,000 Americans were murdered on 9/11. In terms of casualties, 11.5 million deaths represent 3,800 9/11s -- or a 9/11 every day for ten and a half years.

Let me repeat that: a 9/11 every day for ten and a half years.

Perhaps you think these casualty figures are highly inflated. Fine. Cut them in half. That's a 9/11 every day for a little over five years.

Every day.

Do you begin to understand now?
The United States Government was so pleased with its work that it has done its best to replicate this notable achievement in a series of other countries -- Libya, Syria, in Asia, in Africa, anywhere the United States has "vital national interests," which is everywhere in the world. The primary target never alters: it is Islam, and Muslims.

With regard to these issues, what most people take away from the Hebdo story is that some cartoonists were making fun of Islam and they were murdered because of it. They were making Islam an object of ridicule. You may rest assured that the millions of instant Charlies in the West have no deeper understanding of the subtleties to be found in the cartoons, if subtleties there in fact be. As these events have demonstrated, capped by the "historic" rally in Paris, to make Islam an object of ridicule is fine with tens of millions of Westerners. It is certainly fine with Western political leaders. For those leaders, making Islam and Muslims objects of ridicule is an invaluable aid to their plans for ongoing, perpetual war. Ridicule is an indispensable element in the demonization of the "other." As just one of innumerable examples from history (as noted by Thomas Fleming, excerpted here):
Everyone from journalists to President Roosevelt routinely used the dehumanizing slang term "Jap," and regularly compared Japanese soldiers and civilians to monkeys, baboons, and gorillas. Admiral Halsey was especially fond of the monkey metaphor, invariably attaching "yellow" to it. At one point Halsey said he could hardly wait to put to sea "to get some more monkey meat." ...

New Dealers and others around the president made no attempt to alter this dehumanizing war against the Japanese. In September 1942, Admiral William Leahy, Roosevelt's White House chief of staff, told Vice President Henry Wallace that Japan was "our Carthage" and "we should go ahead and destroy her utterly." Wallace noted this sentiment without objection in his diary. Elliott Roosevelt, the president's son, told Wallace some months later that he thought Americans should kill "about half the Japanese civilian population." New Dealer Paul McNutt, chairman of the War Manpower Commission, went him one better, recommending "the extermination of the Japanese in toto."
Yes, there were many, many cartoons portraying these themes, replete with "Jap monkeys." The Hebdo cartoonists would have felt right at home.

It is a tragically common historic pattern: ridicule, demonization, extermination. The consolidation of the United States in its current form and its spread across the North American continent were founded on just such a program. Today, we have a program that, in Zakaria's words, "imagines all Muslims as perpetrators of terrorism," and "gives credence to the idea that all the world’s Muslims are already terrorists or potential terrorists."

Despite all the lip service to "freedom of expression," we know that indiscriminate ridicule remains definitely off-limits. The heated, instantaneous criticism of Margaret Cho is but one of numerous proofs. If you're a white comedian, incorporate an offensive joke about "nigger monkeys" (also a common historical trope) -- and wait to see how many of the newly-minted Charlies noisily clamor to defend you. But Islam and Muslims as objects of ridicule have now been officially put on the "approved" list.

To all of this, the huge crowd in Paris has given its enthusiastic blessing, along with its roars of approval. In so doing, they also blessed the States that are so intent on continuing this program into the future. All those Western leaders must be pleased beyond measure. They procured an enormous propaganda victory with no effort or cost on their own part whatsoever.

I genuinely do not mean to be presumptuous in offering the following thought. It is impossible for someone who is not a member of a persecuted group to understand or feel fully what that persecution is like, although I do have some experience of this kind as a gay man (and as a gay man who is now 66 and was a teenager, with a growing awareness of his sexuality, during the 1960s, which was a terrifying experience in many ways). But if I were Muslim and I contemplated these recent events, and if I further considered the implications and possible ramifications of what has transpired, I would probably be very, very anxious.

In fact, I might be scared shitless.

January 10, 2015

These crimes "will never be purged away, but with Blood"

Nothing can justify the Charlie Hebdo murders. All civilized people must condemn these murders absolutely and unequivocally.
Endless variations of such proclamations have issued from almost everyone in recent days. These titans of virtue and proper thought offer their judgment as if its mere utterance embodies courage of ungraspable dimensions. Truly, moral giants walk among us.

Genuine moral courage does not require the company of a mob. The contrary proposition states the truth of this particular matter: genuine courage forbids the company of a mob that includes almost everyone -- from all political leaders, including those who direct the operations of the most terrifying terrorist organization on Earth, which goes by the name "the United States Government," to every well-known writer, to public personalities of dubious intellect and questionable character, to the most sickeningly bigoted and hate-filled ignoramuses.

Following the news yesterday that several of those people accused of committing the murders had themselves been killed, listeners to one Los Angeles radio station were regaled with whooping laughter and gleeful chuckles, as two hosts tried to determine "the best way to celebrate the death of a terrorist." Shall we order a special cake? Or perhaps, suggested another host, we should buy pigskins and, amidst great fanfare, bury the terrorists in them. "That'll show 'em!" this monster trumpeted. "Attack us, and we'll visit terror on you -- and for eternity!"

A very simple rule of thumb can be applied here: if you find yourself repeating the moral judgment of a mob that shouts views such as these from every available rooftop, you are sure to be wrong. Of course, no one to whom the mob pays attention, no one who "matters," will tell them they are wrong. The mob has completely insulated itself from all views that might seriously challenge their perspective. Indeed, the mob's society has been structured so that those views that are most unwelcome are heard only by individuals so few in number that their existence barely registers. Especially unwelcome views need not even be ignored: you need not ignore that which you have rendered undetectable. This is true not only of these recent murders, but of every matter of consequence. This is what the mob calls "freedom of speech."

These observations of mine are not accompanied by any claim that they represent "the truth." I claim no special connection to the mind of God, to speak in the mob's terms. But I know this: it is obscene that the Hebdo murders should be singled out for an orgy of spluttering condemnation and outrage when the West, led by the monstrous U.S. Government with able support from most European nations, routinely murders more innocents in a single day (and, often, in less than a single day) than were murdered in Paris. The United States commits its murders across the globe -- from Afghanistan, to Iraq, to Syria, to Libya, on through other countries in Africa, and Asia, and in every corner of the world. England and, yes, France, and other countries provide significant aid in this unending campaign of terror.

I also know this: when the U.S. and its accomplices commit murderous acts of terrorism -- when the U.S. and its accomplices murder innocents -- with a regularity and on a scale that would be the envy of the most barbarous and bloodthirsty criminals in all of history, there will be resistance. "Nothing can justify the Charlie Hebdo murders." Nothing? This is the voice of the master, the imperialist, the slaveowner, the sadist: "We can bomb you, we can starve you, we can torture you, we can eviscerate you, we can visit every imaginable horror on you, we can utterly destroy you -- but you are forbidden to ever attack even one of us in any manner at all."

"Nothing can justify the Charlie Hebdo murders." The certainty is impregnable. Perhaps these robotic barbarians are indeed connected to the mind of God: they certainly have no minds of their own, at least of the human variety. I also recognize that when faced with the horrifying crimes of Empire, resistance will necessarily claim innocent lives. Even if the resisters did everything in their power to avoid the deaths of innocents, innocents will die in a war of this kind. The Empire could end the war, if it chose to. It does not.

In his efforts to win the Republican nomination for President in 1860, Abraham Lincoln repeatedly distanced himself from John Brown. As Tony Horwitz notes in Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War: "Like many in the North, he admired Brown's courage and antislavery conviction, but condemned his resort to violence." Honest Abe had more to say when he addressed leading Republicans at a meeting in New York in February 1860. He particularly wanted to reassure and placate Southerners who feared Republican rule:
You charge that we stir insurrections among your slaves. We deny it; and what is your proof? Harper's Ferry! John Brown!! John Brown was no Republican; and you have failed to implicate a single Republican in his Harper's Ferry enterprise.
Stirring oratory! Show Abe how to use a smartphone, explain teevee to him, and he'd be ready to make the rounds of the talk shows tonight.

As Horwitz documents in his book, Lincoln was driven to embrace emancipation, finally, only because of the press of events: he was intent on winning the war, and emancipation was the most powerful weapon he had to utilize toward that end. Support of the abolition of slavery throughout the United States "would bring the North both manpower and European support, while at the same time weakening the southern war effort." As he left jail to go to his execution, John Brown handed a jail guard a note containing the final thoughts he wished to make known: "I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away; but with Blood." Brown's terrible prophecy was made true, and Horwitz notes the irony that it was Lincoln himself who ultimately adopted and repeated Brown's vision.

The occasion was Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address, delivered on March 4, 1865. I offer two short notes about the following excerpt from that speech. In the first phrase, "If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses," replace "American slavery" with "American Empire." Apply Lincoln's theme to this week's events, and to events of recent decades. And it is in the final lines, which I have highlighted, that Lincoln acknowledges the truth that Brown had earlier perceived:
If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."
"...and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword..." I offer this not as a justification of the Hebdo murders, or as approval of violence. The obsession with "justification" and "approval" in this manner -- an obsession shared, it appears, by almost every semiconscious human being, who is breathlessly eager to tell us what he thinks of world events, on the assumption that masses of idiots can't wait to hear what one additional idiot thinks of it all -- is the mark of an arrested narcissistic adolescent, who still believes at the age of 30, or 40, or 50 or more, that the world, and history, require his approval to move forward.

In the summer of 2011, I wrote about this phenomenon in connection with the London riots: "Your Approval of History Is Irrelevant and Meaningless." I conveyed my general perspective, somewhat informally as it were, in a brief fragment of imagined conversation:
"But surely, surely you don't condone the violence in England?" Since I doubt I will ever hear the only sensible response from anyone else, let me offer it myself:

"Whether I condone it or not is fucking irrelevant, you pompous ass."
After explaining the reasons for my view, I summarized my position:
[D]o I "disapprove of" and "condemn" the violence itself? No, I don't. In this context, I don't know what such condemnation even means. Violence is a completely understandable response, particularly when every other means of amelioration and recourse has been systematically closed off. When you leave people no choice but to engage in violence, they'll engage in violence. You want to condemn someone as responsible? Look in the goddamn mirror, fuckhead.

History happens. Try to understand it. Otherwise, get the hell out of the way.
The terrible vision that possessed John Brown still lives with us today. The enemy Brown faced was a campaign of terror within his own country. Today, our enemy is a campaign of terror that encompasses the world. Do I desperately hope for a far better world, one that can be reached by only peaceful means? Of course. As I said in the earlier essay, I consider the recourse to violence to be always deeply tragic, even when it is thoroughly understandable. Today, when faced with an enemy more powerful than any the world has ever known -- when the West's ruling class continues to be ruthlessly intent on amassing ever more power and wealth, when it is determined to eliminate and murder all those who stand in its way, when there is no place on Earth to make oneself safe from the barbaric violence unleashed by the ruling class every minute, of every hour, of every day -- resistance which includes violence is not only understandable, but inevitable.

Facts can be awful things. This is but one example, albeit on an unusually large scale, which makes the awfulness that much more terrifying. Facts do not ask for your approval, or for mine. Your unhappiness or fear will not cause them to dissolve.

You may find comfort in the mob, with its gutter talk of "justification" and what is "approved," and what kinds of resistance are permissible. Always remember: the mob that comforts you today will kill you tomorrow.

**********

I've read enough of the commentary about the Hebdo murders to know that most of what has been written on this subject is unsanitary garbage which will damage your intellectual health and well-being. I can recommend only two articles (there may be a few others worth reading that I've missed, but they are certainly very, very few in number): this one, and this one.

As for all the rest of it: reader beware.

December 15, 2014

For a Loving, Furry, Orange Angel

I was ready to start writing and publishing some new posts last week. In addition to the Alice Miller pieces I want to do, there are several current news items that I find of considerable interest. But all that got knocked to hell when Cyrano took a major turn for the worse.

I thought I was going to lose him toward the end of last week. But he rallied -- for a very sweet, loving cat, he can be a pretty tough guy. He was better for a few days. But now he's having troubles again.

I always go through agonies when my cats reach this stage. I never know how much vet care I should inflict on them, and I do often feel that "inflict" is the operative word. I've put cats through lots of tests in the past, and the net result was that we knew almost nothing at the end of it all that we hadn't known at the beginning. I'm speaking here of old cats; my remarkable cat Elyot did have his life extended for about four years after the diagnosis of cardiomyopathy -- but he was only seven when that started. (And Elyot showed them: one vet predicted he would only last a year, if that. Another vet said nuts to that, and Elyot agreed. He was fine for three and a half years once he was on medication, but then it finally got him. He was a wonderful, superb cat, very much like a person, if you know what I mean.)

In any event, I have no money to take Cyrano to the vet at the moment. But I think he needs to pay him a visit. If you'd like to donate a little bit to help that along, we'd be tremendously grateful. I have a very strong sense that we're only talking about palliative care here, but I want to be sure Cyrano suffers as little as possible. I owe him at least that much, if I can manage it.

It's been an awful year here. Can't wait for it to be over. Given how things have gone in 2014, it would be horribly, morbidly appropriate if Cyrano finally left us on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Yes, my mood is very bleak and dark.

He's such a darling boy. He's been with me since he was eight weeks old, and we've only been apart a few days in the ensuing many years. (When he was still a tiny kitten, he used to snuggle in one of my old sneakers, with just his orange behind sticking out. He was convinced he had rendered himself invisible. I played along. "Where has Cyrano gone? Where is he?") He's now exactly 16 years and four months old. For most of that time, we've had great and grand fun. He's been an absolute joy.

Thanks for listening. And I will try to get one or two posts done in the next week. Among other things, I have a few observations to offer about the Sony hack, and about that white, straight, rich, incredibly privileged asshole named Aaron Sorkin. (Yes, I realize that description is redundant. Can someone be white, straight, rich and a man and not be an asshole? Not in my considerable experience. I will allow for the theoretical possibility of the rare exception, say one in a million or two.)

Christ, give me cats any day. So far superior to humans in every respect. Same is true for dogs, of course.

Give them the world. It could only make it better.

October 27, 2014

One More Try

After my last post about the record-breaking heat wave in Los Angeles, we had another record-breaking heat wave. It was unbelievably awful. I truly think I should be dead by now; I have to say there were more than a few times in the last couple of months when I wouldn't have minded dying all that much. There were some mornings when the worst moment was when I first woke up, only to realize an entire day again stretched before me, to be survived ... well, somehow.

Despite a few warm days here and there, the terrible heat is gone. But I feel considerably weaker than I did just six months ago, and it's harder for me to walk even very short distances. I think I'll probably end up in the hospital again sometime fairly soon. I continue to resist it mightily after my last soul- and body-rending hospital stay. But if I'm convinced a major crisis is upon me -- I've come very close to being convinced a number of times recently -- off to the hospital I shall go.

Meanwhile, at the age of 16 and two months, Cyrano appears to have entered the final stage of his life. I've seen it often enough by this time; I know what it looks like. And I'd thought that was starting to happen about four months ago; that was when I saw the first signs. But I'd hoped I was wrong. Sadly, I wasn't. I think we're talking about months now -- perhaps three or four, maybe a little longer, maybe sooner than that. Particularly in light of the other things I'm contending with, it feels like more than I can bear. Among the many joys of Cyrano's presence in my life, he's the lone companion who has been with me at every moment of my writing over the past 12 years, beginning in September 2002.

There is one group of articles I very much want to write. I've made a start; I've outlined several of them and begun writing the first one. They concern a critical aspect of Alice Miller's work that I feel I haven't explained sufficiently or effectively enough: the implications of Miller's identifications with regard to political matters. I think there are a number of misconceptions about the complex interrelationships of psychology and politics. Obviously, a multitude of issues in the political realm do not concern psychology specifically (d'oh!) -- but it is also true that, since politics is practiced by human beings, psychology is always present in one form or another. And Miller's work helps to clarify much that otherwise remains unexplained, at least in part.

I also want to address some other matters (some of them indicated in my last post), including some cultural/artistic issues. Among the latter is the phony, manipulated "controversy" about the Metropolitan Opera's production of The Death of Klinghoffer. In the midst of many aspects of that furor that were not at all amusing, there were a few moments of high hilarity.

So that's my plan, assuming body and soul hang together for a while longer. As difficult as it is for me to get anything done at this point, I realized this past weekend that I needed to get off my ass and do a few things since the first of the month is almost here again. I'll spare us all the boring repetitions (no source of income other than donations, etc., etc.), and simply note that if I have to move because I can't pay the rent, that will almost certainly be the end of me. I simply couldn't do it, financially or in any other way. And homelessness would certainly be it for me, The End. But right now, I have no funds for rent or the internet, or for a few other bills that must be paid. Any help that readers can provide would be received with great thanks and gratitude.

Some of you have been wonderfully generous. I cannot thank you enough. Given the non-existence of my writing for a number of months, I'm somewhat stunned by the kindness I've received. I don't know if it's because of work already done, work you hope to see done, or simply because you want to help a fellow human being in rather dire circumstances, or some combination of factors. And I'm not sure why I'm still here at all. But the habit of life is very strong in us; it's certainly very strong in me. I'm not one who believes that "everything happens for a reason"; sometimes (very often, in fact) shit just happens. But since I am still here, I want to make something of it, if I can. And I do feel that my work is not done.

Onward we go, stumbling, trying to find our way, muddling through. I shouldn't be presumptuous and say "we" in that way, but that certainly describes how I feel at the moment.

As always, many thanks for your thoughtfulness and kindness. I don't acknowledge it as much as I should, but rest assured, I never forget it.

September 21, 2014

I'm melting, you awful, terrible, rotten little girl!

So, yeah, you may have heard that we had a record-breaking heat wave in Southern California. In my non-airconditioned, second-floor, no-cross-ventilation apartment, the temperature stayed around 85 or 90 degrees for the better part of ten days.

But the cats and I survived. They seem to be okay, although Cyrano -- who celebrated his 16th birthday last month! -- should definitely take a trip to see the ve---...well, you know, that nice man with all the needles and tubes and stuff. Fun! I'm beginning to function again, but very slowly.

I spent much of September in a quasi-comatose state, waiting for the misery to end. Lay in bed, barely moving, eating rarely (although the cats insisted on eating all the bleedin' time). Who wants to eat, when flexing your fingers makes you break out in a sweat? If it had gone on a few more days, I might have been driven to desperate measures. (I dunno what they would have been -- running down the street stark naked at 3 AM, something exciting like that.)

Yesterday, I took stock of where I am. Among other things, I discovered I am very close to flat broke. Have about $140 to my name. That's it. (I guess that counts as flat broke. since the two credit cards I have are maxed out.) In a week, I have to pay rent, an internet bill, an electricity bill ... also food, now that I'm able to think about eating again, also the vet for Cyrano, if at all possible.

Reviewing the situation, there is one good aspect to the past several weeks, that is, "good" in the sense that it provides me with scads of material for articles: some of the leading news stories, including the NFL business and the domestic violence and child abuse horrors, provide endless evidence of themes I've written about for years. And, as usual, some of the most crucial connections, including the numerous ways in which violence, cruelty and coercion in our personal lives is connected to and explains our politics, go unremarked by almost everyone. So I need to fill the gap as best I can. I've already collected lots of articles and stories. Once my brain has cleared a bit more, I'll get to work on all that.

In the meantime, I know some of you must be tormented by your suspect possession of evil, capitalistic lucre. You can unload some of it in my direction, and reclaim your natural status as a person of superlative character and rarified discernment. (Ha! I can still shovel the shit. All is not lost.) Cyrano, Sasha and I would be very grateful.

The three of us will now proceed to splash each other with cold water. Contrary to widely-held, typically baseless belief, some cats, definitely including the two who permit me to live here, adore water -- to play with, to splash, to generally make a mess with. They are too adorable, the little angels.

August 27, 2014

Listening, and Being There, without Judgment

A number of people have sent me emails in response to my post the other day, more than is usually the case. I'm enormously grateful to all those who wrote, and I especially appreciate their sharing very intimate, and occasionally painful and even frightening, personal matters with me. Some of the messages moved me deeply.

As I was reflecting on one particular aspect of these messages, I had a very odd thought. "Wait a minute," I mused. "Do some of these people think that I view suicide as a good thing?" I found the idea enormously upsetting. So I looked over my post again. I wrote that I regard any suicide as a "horrible and horrifying tragedy." The same idea is repeated several times in the course of the essay; the article as a whole unmistakably conveys the idea that when anyone is driven to suicide, it is a terrible, awful calamity.

As an important side note, I add that I think it is a terrible, awful thing even in those instances when suicide is an entirely rational decision -- when, if you will, taking one's own life might even be regarded as the "right" action to take. I'm thinking in particular of the person who murders another human being (or more than one person), and does so not in self-defense, but as a act of gratuitous, unspeakable cruelty. When you have killed an innocent human being, it is impossible to make amends in any complete sense: you cannot bring the person back to life. It is an irreversible crime, one for which atonement is impossible. In such cases, if a person finally grasped the nature of what he had done, including the fact that he could never make amends in any way that would approach the full meaning of that term, I would consider the person's decision to kill himself as completely rational. I would still view it as an awful tragedy for all concerned, most particularly for those who had been the murderer's victims. I further note that this is one unassailable reason that no one should join the military -- or, these days, probably the police department or any other agency that utilizes lethal force -- of a government which murders innocent people with the systematic regularity employed. for example, by the United States government.

Much has been written about the suicides of U.S. military personnel. But this is one critical issue -- and in many ways, I think it is the critical issue -- that I have never seen discussed: How do you make peace with the fact that you have murdered entirely innocent people, people who never wished to harm you, if only your government had left them the hell alone? How do you make amends to their families and friends, to all those who lives have been grievously wounded for the remainder of their lifetimes? Such torments will certainly be felt by those who kill innocent people themselves, but they also might very well be experienced by those who provide indirect, but necessary, support to the murderers. That is, these people will be tormented if and when the full reality and nature of their actions begins to take definite form in their minds and souls. Given the rash of unprovoked, aggressive military operations undertaken by the U.S. government around the world, and in light of the huge number of utterly unjustified murders that are an inextricable element of such operations, is it any wonder that so many people in the U.S. military suffer the torments of hell? Aside from the meaningless, vacuous phrases often associated with religious or quasi-religious viewpoints, what comfort can anyone offer them?

When I thought about the messages I received concerning my post a bit longer, I realized that it wasn't that my correspondents thought I viewed suicide as a "good" thing, for I clearly don't. They obviously don't think it's a good thing, either. What I had picked up was enormously important, but for a very different reason: the people who sent me messages did so out of a profound feeling of relief. They knew they were writing to someone who would not judge what they wished to say about these matters, who would only listen as openly and compassionately as he could. And that, of course, was one of my central themes in that essay. In my own case, readers know that I myself have experienced episodes of deep depression, including thoughts of suicide. But it's not necessary for the listener to have had these feelings and lived through such episodes. What is necessary is that the listener be entirely open to what the person wishes to tell him, and that he do so in a completely non-judgmental way.

In the previous article, I wrote that some of those people who strongly condemned Robin Williams for his suicide claim that they offer such condemnation to "help" others who might be experiencing suicidal thoughts; in some way, they consider it a helpful preventive measure. I said that this could not be the real reason, and that I would take up this question again. Think about it for a moment. A person who is thinking of suicide -- even if he does not have a specific plan in mind (I never did) -- is in the depths of unimaginable despair. He is also assaulted by feelings of inadequacy, of worthlessness, even of self-hatred and self-loathing. For all these reasons and more, he is immensely vulnerable and suggestible. And you're going to help him by vehemently condemning him for what are, at this point, only thoughts, and often only partially-formed thoughts? You're going to tell him: "To commit suicide is the act of a coward. It's weak, and it's selfish. And it's incredibly cruel to all those who care about you." This is going to help him?

To the extent he believes you, and given his tremendous vulnerability it is all too likely he will, he'll conclude that he now has still more reasons to kill himself. He's much more worthless and even loathsome that he himself had thought. He's thinking of suicide! What a terrible, disgusting, horrible person he is! Obviously, he should kill himself immediately.

I underscore that the person who claims he is trying to "help" in this particular manner adds a new, devastating element to the unbearably painful feelings of despair and helplessness that the sufferer already endures: the "helper" is piling an enormous amount of guilt onto feelings that are already unendurable. If he believes that he is weak, selfish and cruel for even having thoughts about suicide, he'll hate himself still more.

As I indicated, all these observations should become apparent after even a few moments of serious thought about the subject. And yet, we know that many people -- actually, I would say most people -- offer "help" of this kind in varying ways and degrees. There is an explanation for this, but it is an explanation that many people do not care to consider. A story will help to make the explanation clearer. It's not my story: it's one that Alice Miller tells in For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence. Here are two brief excerpts from Miller's chapter entitled, "Sylvia Plath: An Example of Forbidden Suffering." Miller writes:
Sylvia Plath's life was no more difficult than that of millions of others. Presumably as a result of her sensitivity, she suffered much more intensely than most people from the frustrations of childhood, but she experienced joy more intensely also. Yet the reason for her despair was not her suffering but the impossibility of communicating her suffering to another person. In all her letters she assures her mother how well she is doing. The suspicion that her mother did not release negative letters for publication overlooks the deep tragedy of Plath's life. This tragedy (and the explanation for her suicide as well) lies in the very fact that she could not have written any other kind of letters, because her mother needed reassurance, or because Sylvia at any rate believed that her mother would not have been able to live without this reassurance. Had Sylvia been able to write aggressive and unhappy letters to her mother, she would not have had to commit suicide. Had her mother been able to experience grief at her inability to comprehend the abyss that was her daughter's life, she never would have published the letters, because the assurances they contained of how well things were going for her daughter would have been too painful to bear.
In the book of Plath's letters, her mother relates that a pastel still-life of Sylvia's gets blurred accidentally when an apron brushes up against it. Sylvia said, "Don't worry, I can patch it up" -- but later that night, she wrote her first poem, "containing tragic undertones." Plath was fourteen.

Miller goes on:
If a sensitive child like Sylvia Plath intuits that it is essential for her mother to interpret the daughter's pain only as the consequence of a picture being damaged and not as a consequence of the destruction of her daughter's self and its expression -- symbolized in the fate of the pastel -- the child will do her utmost to hide her authentic feelings from the mother. The letters are testimony of the false self she constructed (whereas her true self is speaking in The Bell Jar). With the publication of the letters, her mother erects an imposing monument to her daughter's false self.

We can learn from this example what suicide really is: the only possible way to express the true self -- at the expense of life itself. Many parents are like Sylvia's mother. They desperately try to behave correctly toward their child, and in their child's behavior they seek reassurance that they are good parents. The attempt to be an ideal parent, that is, to behave correctly toward the child, to raise her correctly, not to give too little or too much, is in essence an attempt to be the ideal child -- -- well behaved and dutiful -- of one's own parents. But as a result of these efforts the needs of the child go unnoticed. I cannot listen to my child with empathy if I am inwardly preoccupied with being a good mother; I cannot be open to what she is telling me. This can be observed in various parental attitudes.
Let me repeat the two most crucial sentences from these passages:
Yet the reason for her despair was not her suffering but the impossibility of communicating her suffering to another person.
We can learn from this example what suicide really is: the only possible way to express the true self -- at the expense of life itself.
The vast majority of parents are not concerned with attending to their child's genuine, firsthand emotions and needs, certainly not to any consistent degree. Instead, they are concerned with behaving "properly" and "correctly," with acting and even feeling the "right" way. They first learned this as children, when their own parents made the same demands of them. And now, they make identical demands of their children.

While I would not claim this is the explanation in every case, it is certainly the explanation for the majority of parents who behave as Plath's mother did (which is most of them), and it is also the explanation for all those who rush to condemn the person who kills himself. As I have observed, if we make real to ourselves the immense, unbearable pain experienced by someone who considers suicide, however briefly and in however vague a manner, we would quickly realize that the absolute last thing we would wish to do is add to their suffering, by criticizing them for cowardice, weakness, and the like. This is not a sophisticated, complex point encountered only in advanced texts on therapeutic techniques: it is simple common sense, a matter of what could be everyday understanding. But most of us are so bound up in the commandments imposed on us by our parents, and then internalized within us as we grow to adulthood when they are only very rarely dislodged, that we have rendered ourselves impervious to ideas that would otherwise be grasped quite easily.

There remain many additional issues to discuss about this subject, and I will shortly take up a few more of them. For the moment, I'll conclude with some thoughts I offered once before:
Finally, here's some unsolicited advice. If anyone you know ever makes a tentative effort to discuss obviously painful feelings with you, and perhaps even thoughts of suicide, do not judge them, do not condemn them, and above all, do not attempt in any way to shut them down. Listen, listen as carefully as you can -- and communicate to the person in every manner possible that there is someone who cares about them, who hears and sees the pain they are in, and who wants to help, if you can. Just be there, as a friend, as someone who empathizes, and make real to yourself what their pain feels like.

Just be there, with understanding, with compassion, with affection or love, as the case may be. As Miller indicates, be open to what the person is telling you. Sometimes, just being there, being there in the most meaningful sense, is the hardest thing in the world to do -- and the most important.

And perhaps, someday, the horrors will end. I still choose to believe in miracles.
Now, more than ten years later, I feel exactly the same way. That passage is from an article I published in February 2004, when I first related the Sylvia Plath story as discussed by Alice Miller. While my understanding of these issues has thankfully increased in the past decade, just as I have encountered (and sometimes written about) many other examples of these same dynamics, I did a decent job all those years ago. Perhaps the presentation is more effective this time, if only because Robin Williams' tragic death is still so recent.

Until next time.