Voltaire once said “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” Sadly, the number of examples throughout history to support his claim fill entire libraries. The most recent, Iraq and Afghanistan (and associated mayhem), are still burning through the fabric of humanity like the Alien’s acid-like blood burnt through the decks of the spaceship Nostromo. Yet where is the outcry? Where are the forces in society with enough clout to expose and blunt the absurdities- the Press and protestors in the streets?
We are in the midst of another election season and absurdities abound in the rhetoric. The saber rattling, while always present in a militaristic society like ours, has begun to escalate. Recently two exiting Generals claimed in their goodbye speeches that Russia is the biggest threat facing America– Russia? Really? I guess there ain’t no money in ISIS and Al Qaeda folks. You don’t need strategic bombers, huge mechanized armies and aircraft carriers to fight them. Guess where those two guys are likely heading next for work?
The presidential candidates appear to cover the gamut with regard to the projection of US military strength internationally– Trump is called a loose cannon and supposedly dangerous because of his unpredictability, Clinton is called a hawk and supposedly dangerous because of her predicability and Sanders is called a dove and supposedly dangerous because his idealism ignores realism. We hear little about ending the war on terror though. We even had one extremely belligerent candidate, Ted Cruz (thankfully banished, a positive outcome of Trump’s success), who proposed carpet bombing an entire country into submission, even though we have empirical evidence going all the way back to Dresden that this never has and presumably never will work!. Was he challenged on this madness? Superficially at best. Again, where are our gatekeepers whose job it is to check the facts, challenge the claims and expose the absurdities? Why are we the people so silent?
Another famous French author once summed it up pretty well:
“A poor man in the world can be done to death in two main ways, by the absolute indifference of his fellows in peacetime or by their homicidal mania when there’s a war. When other people start thinking about you, it’s to figure out how to torture you. The bastards want to see you bleeding, otherwise they’re not interested! The patriots kept clamoring: Guns! Men! Ammunition! They never seemed to get tired. It was an obsession which prevented the best of our fellow citizens from breathing, eating, or copulating. But it didn’t seem to prevent them from swinging business deals. Morale was doing all right on the home front” — Louis-Ferdinand Celine Journey to The End Of The Night (1934)
If you know about Celine then you know that even he was taken in by an absurdity later in his life. Yet his quote remembering his experiences in WWI is as relevant today as it was back then.
There was one moment in our history when the barricades were stridently manned and the constitutional tools at our disposal were put to good use in the battle against the purveyors of absurdity. It was a short moment to be sure, from about 1960 -1973, but during that period we saw important social strides made through the Civil Rights, Free Speech and anti-Vietnam War movements. It was a time before the rise of today’s corporate dominated mass-news media that values the interests of its owners and sponsors above its critical responsibility as the peoples’ watch dog against corporate and governmental over-reach. In the sixties the advent of television news, with its immediate images beamed into living rooms before being sanitized for docile consumption, caught the elites completely by surprise. Suddenly they had lost control of the frame and it cost them. Of course it was good for society, we haven’t seen accelerated social change like that ever since, but it seriously damaged ruling class interests at the time. They learned the lesson– think about embedded reporters for example, now they can only report what their keepers let them see. No more Morley Safers or Malcolm Brownes. A tamed sycophantic news media eagerly goes along with it.
We the people would do well to study those lofty days when people took the law into their own hands and took to the streets to force change. Take heed of the tactics used by those regular folks who spoke up and put their hands on the gears of the machine and follow in their footsteps:
RIP Morley Safer…