Dan Rather on HAMP

A commenter on one of my student loan video comment threads shared this excellent clip, “Dan Rather Reports on HAMP (Home Affordable Modification Program)”:

The runaround is eerily similar when comparing this home mortgage chicanery with the student loan chicanery.

An excerpt from the book “The Cunning of History: The Holocaust and the American Future”

From the book The Cunning of History: The Holocaust and the American Future (1975) by Richard L. Rubenstein, below is a piece I transcribed in 2008 for safe-keeping.

This excerpt is taken from chapter 1, Mass Death and Contemporary Civilization:

The passing of time has made it increasingly evident that a hitherto unbreachable moral and political barrier in the history of Western civilization was successfully overcome by the Nazis in the World War II and that henceforth the systematic, bureaucratically administered extermination of millions of citizens or subject peoples will forever be one of the capacities and temptations of government. Whether or not such a temptation is ever again exercised, the mere fact that every modern government possesses such power cannot but alter the relations between those who govern those who are governed. The power must also alter the texture of foreign relations. According to Max Weber, “The state is a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of force within a given territory.” Auschwitz has enlarged our conception of the state’s capacity to do violence. A barrier has been overcome in what for millennia had been regarded as the permissible limits of political action. The Nazi period serves as a warning of what we can all too easily become were we faced with a political or economic crisis of overwhelming proportions. The public may be fascinated by the Nazis; hopefully, it is also warned by them.

In studying the Holocaust, the extermination of Europe’s Jews, it is necessary to recognize that our feelings may be strongly roused. Both the Nazis and their victims elicit some very complicated emotional responses from most people. These feelings are important but they can add to our difficulties in arriving at an understanding of what took place. In order to understand the Holocaust, it is necessary to adopt a mental attitude that excludes all feelings of sympathy or hostility towards both the victims and the perpetrators. This is a methodological procedure and, admittedly, an extremely difficult one. Nevertheless, this bracketing is necessary, not only because of the emotions aroused by the Nazis, but also because of the ambivalent reactions Jews inevitably arouse in Western culture. In view of the fact that (a) most Europeans and Americans are the spiritual and cultural heirs of a religious tradition in which both the incarnate deity and his betrayer are Jewish and that (b) the fate of the Jews has been a primary datum used to prove the truth of Christianity from its inception, it is difficult for even the most secularized non-Jew to be without a complex mixture of feelings when confronted with Jewish disaster. The feelings are likely to include both guilt and gratification.

Nor are Jews normally capable of greater objectivity in dealing with the Holocaust. The event has challenged the very foundation of Jewish religious faith. It has reinforced all of the millennial distrust on the part of Jews for the non-Jewish world. It has also raised the exceedingly painful issue of the role of the Judenräte, the Jewish community councils which everywhere controlled the Jewish communities and which were used by the Germans as a principal instrument to facilitate the process of extermination.

Both Jews and non-Jews have good reasons for responding with emotion to the Holocaust. […]

[…] It is, of course, somewhat easier to assess the meaning of the Holocaust today than it was a generation ago. During and immediately after World War II, the shock of the experience was too great. As the camps were liberated, brutal media images of survivors who seemed hardly more than walking skeletons were mixed with images of mounds of unburied corpses. The pictures hinted at the frightfulness of what had taken place, but their very horror also tended to obscure comprehension. The moral and psychological categories under which such scenes could be comprehended were hatred, cruelty, and sadism. The past was searched to find parallels with which the event could be understood. Human history is filled with incidents of rapine, robbery, and massacre. It was to such categories that the mind was initially drawn. In addition, the Jews had been the victims of degrading assault so often that there was an understandable tendency to regard the Holocaust as the contemporary manifestation of the anti-Jewish violence that had so often exploded during the two-thousand-year sojourn of the Jews in Europe.

There was also the paucity of facts. It was known that millions had been killed, but, until the German archives and the survivors’ memoirs became available, it was not possible to get an accurate picture of the destruction process as a whole. Because of the total collapse of the German state in 1945, its archives became available soon after the events had taken place. Under normal conditions, many of the most important documents would never have become available. Even after having been made available, the archival material, the transcripts of the war crimes trials and the avalanche of memoirs all had to be digested. To some extent, that process is still going on. Unfortunately, whenever scholars have attempted to comprehend the Holocaust in terms of pre-twentieth-century experience, they have invariably failed to recognize the phenomenon for what it was, a thoroughly modern exercise in total domination that could only have been carried out by an advanced political community with a highly trained, tightly disciplined police and civil service bureaucracy.

As reflection replaced shock, attention shifted from a description of the mobile killing units and the death camps to the analysis of the process by which extermination was carried out. The process was a highly complex series of acts which started simply with the bureaucratic definition of who was a Jew. Once defined as a Jew, by the German state bureaucracy, a person was progressively deprived of all personal property and citizenship rights. The final step in the process required the cooperation of every sector of German society. The bureaucrats drew up the definitions and decrees; the churches gave evidence of Aryan descent; the postal authorities carried the messages of definition, expropriation, denaturalization, and deportation; business corporations dismissed their Jewish employees and took over “Aryanized” properties; the railroads carried the victims to their place of execution, a place made available to the Gestapo and the SS by the Wehrmacht. To repeat, the operation required and received the participation of every major social, political, and religious institution of the German Reich.

The essential steps in the process of annihilation have been outlined by the historian and political scientist, Raul Hilberg, in his comprehensive and indispensable study, The Destruction of the European Jews. According to Hilberg, since the fourth Christian century, there have been three fundamental anti-Jewish policies, conversion, expulsion, and annihilation. Until the twentieth century, only two of the policies were attempted in a systematic way, conversion and expulsion. Throughout the history of Christianity, there have been countless attempts to inflict violence upon Jews. These assaults were often encouraged by religious and secular authorities. Nevertheless, such outbursts, no matter how extensive, were never transformed into systematic, bureaucratically administered policies of outright extermination until World War II. According to Hilberg, the Nazis were both “innovators” and “improvisors” in their elimination of the Jews.

Before the twentieth century, the Christian religious tradition was both the source of much traditional anti-Jewish hostility and an effective barrier against the final murderous step. Something changed in the twentieth century. As always, there were men who sought to rid their communities of Jews and Jewish influence, but the methods proposed were no longer limited by traditional religious or moral restraints. The rationalizations with which a massacre of the Jews could be justified were at least as old as Christendom. […] For our purposes, it is sufficient to note that those stereotypical images did not lead to systematic extermination until the twentieth century. There was little that the Nazis had to add to the negative image of the Jew they had inherited from Martin Luther or from the Pan-German anti-Semites of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In every instance, the Jew was depicted as an enemy within the gates, a criminal and a kind of plague or species of vermin. Gil Eliot has observed that such images ascribe to an adversary or a potential victim a paranthropoid identity. As Eliot has asserted, once a human being has been stripped of his human and given a paranthropoid identity, the normal moral impediments cease to operate.

To repeat, something happened in the twentieth century that made it morally and psychologically possible to realize dreams of destructiveness that had previously been confined to fantasy. Part of the reason for the radicalization of the destructive tendencies can, of course, be found in such specific events as the defeat of Germany in World War I after four years of fighting of unprecedented violence. An element of even greater importance was the fact that the secularized culture which substituted calculating rationality for the older traditional norms in personal and group relations did not mature fully until the twentieth century. Yet another factor was the conjunction of the charismatic leadership of Adolf Hitler, the bureaucratic competence of the German police and civil service, and the mood of the German people at a particular moment in history. Himmler and Goebbels, for example, were convinced that Hitler’s leadership gave the Germans a unique opportunity to eliminate the Jews that might never be repeated.

All of the elements cited played their part, but more was involved. The Holocaust was an expression of some of the most significant political, moral, religious and demographic tendencies of Western civilization in the twentieth century. The Holocaust cannot be divorced from the very same culture of modernity that produced the two world wars and Hitler.

[Emphases his. Links obviously mine.]

The gist of “paranthropoid identity,” as I understand, is it represents assigning someone sub-human status where they are considered primitive by comparison.

Blue Gold: World Water Wars

This is one of my favorite documentaries to share with others, titled “Blue Gold: World Water Wars”:

Anyone know what time it is?  Better start wondering.

And all for what?  For power. Simple as that. For power, greed, money-lust…a desire to achieve ‘god-like’ status among humans.  For what?  You’d have to ask them. Probably because they have a vision of it working out in their favor, perhaps believing their ideologies (if they indeed embrace any) are the cure to what ails humanity. Or perhaps it grows out of contempt for fellow humans. I don’t know. But it is real and serves to teach us the deeper meaning of that which we term “evil.” From what I can tell, it appears evil is frequently born of sheltered, willful ignorance and a sense of special, selective entitlement.

This documentary is also available for viewing on Netflix. To learn more about this documentary, check out the official site here. Quoting from that site:

In every corner of the globe, we are polluting, diverting, pumping, and wasting our limited supply of fresh water at an expediential level as population and technology grows. The rampant overdevelopment of agriculture, housing and industry increase the demands for fresh water well beyond the finite supply, resulting in the desertification of the earth.

Corporate giants force developing countries to privatize their water supply for profit. Wall Street investors target desalination and mass bulk water export schemes. Corrupt governments use water for economic and political gain. Military control of water emerges and a new geo-political map and power structure forms, setting the stage for world water wars.

We follow numerous worldwide examples of people fighting for their basic right to water, from court cases to violent revolutions to U.N. conventions to revised constitutions to local protests at grade schools. As Maude Barlow proclaims, “This is our revolution, this is our war”. A line is crossed as water becomes a commodity. Will we survive?

“Gonna wreck this fucker’s ride” and more

Been a long week. Just gonna stick to music right now.

On the menu this evening is “Bad Habit” by The Offspring:

Just because I love that song.

Moving along to Nine Inch Nails:

True that.

And in case further evidence was needed to prove our military is out of control and off its rocker, see this:

Sick and disappointing that is.

On subjectivity, science, and scientism — an excerpt from the book “Technopoly”

Continuing in Neil Postman’s book Technopoly (1992), picking back up on page 158:

Technopoloy wishes to solve, once and for all, the dilemma of subjectivity. In a culture in which the machine, with its impersonal and endlessly repeatable operations, is a controlling metaphor and considered to be the instrument of progress, subjectivity becomes profoundly unacceptable. Diversity, complexity, and ambiguity of human judgment are enemies of technique. They mock statistics and polls and standardized tests and bureaucracies. In Technopoly, it is not enough for social research to rediscover ancient truths or to comment on and criticize the moral behavior of people. In Technopoly, it is an insult to call someone a “moralizer.” Nor is it sufficient for social research to put forward metaphors, images, and ideas that can help people live with some measure of understanding and dignity. Such a program lacks the aura of certain knowledge that only science can provide. It becomes necessary, then, to transform psychology, sociology, and anthropology into “sciences,” in which humanity itself becomes an object, much like plants, planets, or ice cubes.

That is why the commonplaces that people fear death and that children who come from stable families valuing scholarship will do well in school must be announced as “discoveries” of scientific enterprise. In this way, social researchers can see themselves, and can be seen, as scientists, researchers without bias or values, unburdened by mere opinion. In this way, social policies can be claimed to rest on objectively determined facts. In Technopoly, it is not enough to argue that the segregation of blacks and whites in schools is immoral, and it is useless to offer Black Boy or Invisible Man or The Fire Next Time as proof. The courts must be shown that standardized academic and psychological tests reveal that blacks do less well than whites and feel demeaned when segregation exists. In Technopoly, it is not enough to say it is immoral and degrading to allow people to be homeless. You cannot get anywhere by asking a judge, a politician, or a bureaucrat to read Les Miserables or Nana or, indeed, the New Testament. You must show that statistics have produced data revealing the homeless to be unhappy and to be a drain in the economy. Neither Dostoevsky nor Freud, Dickens nor Weber, Twain nor Marx, is now a dispenser of legitimate knowledge. They are interesting; they are “worth reading”; they are artifacts of our past. But as for “truth,” we must turn to “science.” Which brings me to the crux of what I mean by Scientism, and why it has emerged in Technopoly.

I have tried to show that science, social research, and the kind of work we call imaginative literature are three quite different kinds of enterprise. In the end, all of them are forms of story-telling—human attempts to account for our experience in coherent ways. But they have different aims, ask different questions, follow different procedures, and give different meanings to “truth.” In most of these respects, social research has little in common with science, and much in common with other forms of imaginative literature. Yet social “scientists” have consistently sought to identify themselves, and in more than name, with physicists, chemists, biologists, and others who inquire into the lawful regularities of the natural world. Why students of the human condition should do this is not hard to explain. The great successes of modern times—indeed, perhaps the only successes—have come in medicine, pharmacology, biochemistry, astrophysics, and all the feats of mechanical, biological, and electronic engineering made possible by the consistent application of the aims, assumptions, and procedures of natural science. These successes have attached to the name of science an awesome measure of authority, and to those who claim the title “scientist” a similar measure of respect and prestige. Beyond that lies the nineteenth-century hope that the assumptions and procedures of natural science might be applied without modification to the social world, to the same end of increased predictability and control, and with the same kind of engineering success. This hope has proved both misguided and illusory. But the illusion is a powerful one, and, given the psychological, social, and material benefits that attach to the label “scientist,” it is not hard to see why social researchers should find it hard to give it up.

It is less easy to see why the rest of us have so willingly, even eagerly, cooperated in perpetuating the same illusion. In part, the explanation lies in a profound misunderstanding of the aims of natural and of social studies, and of the differences between the physical and social worlds. But there is more to it than that. When the new technologies and techniques and spirit of men like Galileo, Newton, and Bacon laid the foundations of natural science, they also discredited the authority of earlier accounts of the physical world, as found, for example, in the great tale of Genesis. By calling into question the truth of such accounts in one realm, science undermined the whole edifice of belief in sacred stories and ultimately swept away with it the source to which most humans had looked for moral authority. It is not too much to say, I think, that the desacralized world has been searching for an alternative source of moral authority ever since. So far as I know, no responsible natural scientist, either of the Renaissance or of recent times, has claimed that the procedures of natural science or its discoveries can tell us what we ought to do—whether some way of dealing with our fellow humans is good or evil, right or wrong. Indeed, the very principles of natural science, with its requirement of an objective stance toward what is studied, compel the natural scientist to abjure in his or her role as a scientist such moral judgments or claims. When natural scientists speak out on moral questions, on what is good and evil to do, they speak as the rest of us—as concerned citizens on a threatened planet, as rational women and men, as people of conscience who must struggle no less than you must, or I, to answer for themselves where the ultimate authority for their moral judgment lies. It is the world of desperate listeners, longing for a more powerful moral authority, that begs the natural scientist to say it is the science that speaks, not the woman or man. But the scientist cannot with honor consent.

Our social “scientists” have from the beginning been less tender of conscience, or less rigorous in their views of science, or perhaps just more confused about the questions their procedures can answer and those they cannot. In any case, they have not been squeamish about imputing to their “discoveries” and the rigor of their procedures the power to direct us in how we ought rightly to behave. That is why social “scientists” are so often to be found on our television screens, and on our best-seller lists, and in the “self-help” sections of airport bookstands: not because they can tell us how some humans sometimes behave but because they purport to tell us how we should; not because they speak to us as fellow humans who have lived longer, or experienced more of human suffering, or thought more deeply and reasoned more carefully about some set of problems, but because they consent to maintain the illusion that it is their data, their procedures, their science, and not themselves, that speak. We welcome them gladly, and the claim explicitly made or implied, because we need so desperately to find some source outside the frail and shaky judgments of mortals like ourselves to authorize our moral decisions and behavior. And outside of the authority of brute force, which can scarcely be called moral, we seem to have little left but the authority of procedures.

This, then, is what I mean by Scientism. It is not merely the misapplication of techniques such as quantification to questions where numbers have nothing to say; not merely the confusion of the material and social realms of human experience; not merely the claim of social researchers to be applying the aims and procedures of natural science to the human world. Scientism is all of these, but something profoundly more. It is the desperate hope, and wish, and ultimately the illusory belief that some standardized set of procedures called “science” can provide us with an unimpeachable source of moral authority, a suprahuman basis for answers to questions like “What is right and wrong to do?” “What are good and evil ends?” “How ought we to think and feel and behave?” It is Scientism on a personal level when one says, as President Reagan did, that he personally believes that abortion is wrong but we must leave it to science to tell us when a fetus enters life. It is Scientism on a cultural level when no scientist rises to demur, when no newspaper prints a rebuttal on its “science” pages, when everyone cooperates, willfully or through ignorance, in the perpetuation of such an illusion. Science can tell us when a heart begins to beat, or movement begins, or what are the statistics of survival of neonates of different gestational ages outside the womb. But science has no more moral authority than you do or I do to establish such criteria as the “true” definition of “life” or of human state or of personhood. Social research can tell us how some people behave in the presence of what they believe to be legitimate authority. But it cannot tell us when authority is “legitimate” and when not, or how we must decide, or when it may be right or wrong to obey. To ask of science, or expect of science, or accept unchallenged from science the answers to such questions is Scientism. And it is Technopoly’s grand illusion.

[All emphases his.]

This excerpt concluded on page 162.

Neil Postman’s take on “scientism” and popular misuse of the word “science”

An excerpt I transcribed from the book Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology (1992) by Neil Postman follows, beginning on page 147:

By Scientism, I mean three interrelated ideas that, taken together, stand as one of the pillars of Technopoly. Two of the three have just been cited. The first and indispensable idea is, as noted, that the methods of the natural sciences can be applied to the study of human behavior. This idea is the backbone of much of psychology and sociology as practiced at least in America, and largely accounts for the fact that social science, to quote F. A. Hayek, “has contributed scarcely anything to our understanding of social phenomena.”

The second idea is, as noted, that social science generates specific principles which can be used to organize society on a rational and humane basis. This implies that technical means—mostly “invisible technologies” supervised by experts—can be designed to control human behavior and set it on the proper course.

The third idea is that faith in science can serve as a comprehensive belief system that gives meaning to life, as well as a sense of well-being, morality, and even immortality.

I wish here to show how these ideas spiral into each other, and how they give energy and form to Technopoly.

The term “science,” as it is generally used today—referring to the work of those in the physical, chemical and biological disciplines—was popularized in the early nineteenth century, with significant help from the formation of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1831 (although Murray’s New English Dictionary gives 1867 as the earliest use of the term in its modern sense). By the early twentieth century, the term had been appropriated by others, and it has since become increasingly familiar as a description of what psychologists, sociologists, and even anthropologists do. It will come as no surprise that I claim this is a deceptive and confusing use of the term, in part because it blurs the distinction between processes and practices.

Using definitions proposed by the British philosopher Michael Oakeshott, we may say that “processes” refers to those events that occur in nature, such as the orbiting of planets or the melting of ice or the production of chlorophyll in a leaf. Such processes have nothing to do with human intelligence, are governed by immutable laws, and are, so to say, determined by the structure of nature. If one were so inclined, one might even say processes are the creation of God. By “practices,” on the other hand, Oakeshott means the creation of people—those events that result from human decisions and actions, such as writing or reading this book or forming a new government or conversing at dinner or falling in love. These events are a function of human intelligence interacting with environment, and although there is surely a measure of regularity in human affairs, such affairs are not determined by natural laws, immutable or otherwise. In other words, there is an irrevocable difference between a blink and a wink. A blink can be classified as a process; it has physiological causes which can be understood and explained within the context of established postulates and theories. But a wink must be classified as a practice, filled with personal and to some extent unknowable meanings and, in any case, quite impossible to explain or predict in terms of causal relations.

What we may call science, then, is the quest to find the immutable and universal laws that govern processes, presuming that there are cause-and-effect relations among these processes. It follows that the quest to understand human behavior and feeling can in no sense except the most trivial be called science. One can, of course, point to the fact that students of both natural law and human behavior often quantify their observations, and on this common ground classify them together. A fair analogy would be to argue that, since a housepainter and an artist both use paint, they are engaged in the same enterprise and to the same end.

The scientist uses mathematics to assist in uncovering and describing the structure of nature. At best, sociologists (to take one example) use quantification merely to give some precision to their ideas. But there is nothing especially scientific in that. All sorts of people count things in order to achieve precision without claiming they are scientists. Bail bondsmen count the number of murders committed in their cities; judges count the number of divorce actions in their jurisdictions; business executives count the amount of money spent in their stores; and young children like to count their toes and fingers in order not to be vague about how many they have. Information produced by counting may sometimes be valuable in helping a person get an idea, or, even more so, in providing support for an idea. But the mere activity of counting does not make science.

Nor does observing things, though it is sometimes said that if one is empirical, one is scientific. To be empirical means to look at things before drawing conclusions. Everyone, therefore, is an empiricist, with the possible exception of paranoid schizophrenics. To be empirical also means to offer evidence that others can see as clearly as you. You may, for example, conclude that I like to write books, offering as evidence that I have written this one and several others besides. You may also offer as evidence a tape recording, which I can supply on request, on which I tell you that I like to write books. Such evidence may be said to be empirical, and your conclusion empirically based. But you are not therefore acting as a scientist. You are acting as a rational person, to which condition many people who are not scientists may make a just claim.

Leaving off on page 149. Neil Postman had much more to say on this and other topics, and I highly recommend reading this book.

More on scientism and the problem with so-called social “scientists” is discussed in the next transcribed excerpt.

On war, sex, violence, and cultural rot

The following are excerpts from Chris Hedges’ book War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, beginning on pages 74-75:

The effectiveness of the myths peddled in war is powerful. We often come to doubt our own perceptions. We hide these doubts, like troubled believers, sure that no one else feels them. We feel guilty. The myths have determined not only how we should speak but how we should think. The doubts we carry, the scenes we see that do not conform to the myth are hazy, difficult to express, unsettling. And as the atrocities mount, as civil liberties are stripped away (something, with the “War on Terror,” already happening to hundreds of thousands of immigrants in the United States), we struggle uncomfortably with the jargon and clichés. But we have trouble expressing our discomfort because the collective shout has made it hard for us to give words to our thoughts.

This self-doubt is aided by the monstrosity of war. We gape and wonder at the collapsing towers of the World Trade Center. They crumble before us, and yet we cannot quite comprehend it. What, really, did we see? In wartime an attack on a village where women and children are killed, an attach that does not conform to the myth peddled by our side, is hard to fathom and articulate. We live in wartime with a permanent discomfort, for in wartime we see things so grotesque and fantastic that they seem beyond human comprehension. War turns human reality into a bizarre carnival that does not seem part of our experience. It knocks us off balance.

On a chilly, rainy day in March 1998 I was in a small Albanian village in Kosovo, twenty-five miles west of the provincial capital of Pristina. I was waiting with a few thousand Kosovar Albanian mourners for a red Mercedes truck to rumble down the dirt road and unload a cargo of fourteen bodies. A group of distraught women, seated on wooden planks set up on concrete blocks, was in the dirt yard.

When the truck pulled into the yard I climbed into the back. Before each corpse, wrapped in bloodstained blankets and rugs, was lifted out for washing and burial I checked to see if the body was mutilated. I pulled back the cloth to uncover the faces. The gouged-out eyes, the shattered skulls, the gaping rows of broken teeth, and the sinewy strands of flayed flesh greeted me. When I could not see clearly in the fading light I flicked on my Maglite. I jotted each disfigurement in my notebook.

The bodies were passed silently out of the truck. They were laid on crude wooden coffin lids placed on the floor of the shed. The corpses were wound in white shrouds by a Muslim cleric in a red turban. The shed was lit by a lone kerosene lamp. It threw out a ghastly, uneven, yellowish light. In the hasty effort to confer some dignity on the dead, family members, often weeping, tried to wash away the bloodstains from the faces. Most could not do it and had to be helped away.

It was not an uncommon event for me. I have seen many such dead. Several weeks later it would be worse. I would be in a warehouse with fifty-one bodies, including children, even infants, women, and the elderly from the town of Prekaz. I had spent time with many of them. I stared into their lifeless faces. I was again in the twilight zone of war. I could not wholly believe what I saw in front of me.

In the book, Chris Hedges writes a good deal about his time in Bosnia and Yugoslavia during the 1990s. The next portion stood out to me, following a tale of a Muslim child shot and killed for throwing stones at Lebanese fighters taunting the community in a Jeep with mounted loudspeakers. This part deals with the carnal relations in war. Picking up again on page 98:

The violent breakup of Yugoslavia, which was preceded by economic collapse, began in 1991. It was the same year that the government decided to permit hard-core sex films to be broadcast on public stations and that the first locally made pornographic film was produced. While the old Communist Yugoslavia did not censor love scenes in its state-run film industry, it condemned pornography as the exploitation of women and banned its production. The first graphic pictures of mutilated and dead from the war, along with the racial diatribes against Muslims and Croats, hit the airwaves at the same time Yugoslavs were allowed to watch porno films. The war was, like the sex films, about the lifting of taboos, about new forms of entertainment to mask the economic and political collapse of Yugoslavia. War and sex were the stimulants to divert a society that was collapsing.

The world, as it is in war, had been turned upside down. Those who had worked hard all their lives, put their meager savings into banks, and struggled to live on pensions or salaries, lost everything. The unscrupulous, who had massive debts, never had to repay them, lived off the black market or crime, used force to get what they wanted, and became fabulously rich and powerful. The moral universe disintegrated. There was a new code.

The criminal class, many of whom had made their fortunes by plundering the possessions of ethnic Croats and Muslims who were expelled from their homes or killed in Bosnia during the war, had rented apartments where they sold stolen clothes from Italy. Huge outdoor fairs were held where you could buy stolen cars complete with fake registrations. Drugs, protection rackets, prostitution, not to speak of duty-free cigarettes (smuggled into Italy with speedboats from the Montenegrin coast), became the country’s major businesses as state-run factories folded. In Belgrade, at the war’s height, there were seventy escort services, three adult cinemas, and twenty pornographic magazines. After midnight the public television channels ran hard-core porno films.

Hedonism and perversion spiraled out of control as inflation ate away at the local currency. Those who had worked hard all their lives were now reviled as dupes and fools. They haunted the soup kitchens. The loyalty they had expressed to the state of the institutions they worked for had left them beggars. They held worthless war bonds. They collected pensions, when they were paid, that amounted to a few dollars. They sold rugs, tea sets, china, paintings, anything they could dig out of their apartments at huge open-air flea markets. Their children, no matter how well educated, worked in menial jobs abroad so they could mail back enough for their parents to buy food. Distraught teachers said they struggled to cope with children as young as eleven who had been exposed to scenes of graphic sadomasochism on television and copied the sexual acts they witnessed. Domestic violence, often by men who were out of work or had not received their small salaries for months, was widespread.

The ancient Greeks linked war and love. Aphrodite, the goddess of love and the wife of Hephaestos, the lame blacksmith who forged the weapons and armor for the gods, became the mistress of Ares, the god of war. It was an illicit affair. Ares, impetuous, quarrelsome, and often drunk, was hated among the gods. He loved battle for its own sake. His sister, Eris, spread rumor and jealousy to whip up the winds of war. Ares never favored one city or party against another. He frequently switched loyalties, abandoning those he had once helped. He delighted only in slaughter. It was only Eris and Aphrodite, who had a perverse passion for him, who loved him. Hades honored him because of the legions of slain young men he dispatched to the underworld.

There is in wartime a nearly universal preoccupation with sexual liaisons. There is a kind of breathless abandon in wartime, and those who in peacetime would lead conservative and sheltered lives give themselves over to wanton carnal relationships. Men, and especially soldiers, are preoccupied with little else. With power reduced to such a raw level an the currency of life and death cheap, eroticism races through all relationships. There is in these encounters a frenetic lust that seeks, on some level, to replicate or augment the drug of war. It is certainly not about love, indeed love itself in wartime is hard to sustain or establish.

Casual encounters are charged with a raw, high-voltage sexual energy that smacks of the self-destructive lust of war itself. The erotic in war is like the rush of battle. It overwhelms the participants. Women who might not otherwise be hailed as beauties are endowed with the charms of Helen. Men endowed with little more than the power to kill are lionized and desired. Bodies, just as they lie scattered and immobile a few hundred yards away, become tools, objects to an end. The fleeting sexual encounters, intense, overpowering, and largely anonymous, deflate with tremendous speed and leave behind guilt, even disgust, and a void that expands into a swamp of loneliness. Stay long enough in war and real love, tenderness and connection, becomes nearly impossible. Sex in war is another variant of the drug of war.

“If we are honest,” the philosopher J. Glenn Gray wrote in The Warrior, “most of us who were civilian soldiers in recent wars will confess that we spent incomparably more time in the service of Eros during our military careers than ever before or again in our lives. When we were in uniform almost any girl who was faintly attractive had an erotic appeal for us. For their part, millions of women find a strong sexual attraction in the military uniform, particularly in time of war.”

Skipping a few paragraphs, continuing on page 102:

Those relationships that appear to extend beyond the erotic, however, are also hollow. Many liaisons in wartime look and feel like love, but they too have more to do with projection than reality. Soldiers fall in love with women across a vast cultural divide, although the linguistic barrier makes communication difficult. Here too war perverts the relationship. For in the soldier lies absolute power, protection, and possibly escape. The women’s appeal lies in the gentleness that is absent in war. Each finds in the other attributes that war wipes out–tenderness or security. But few of these liaisons last once the conflict ends.

The young are drawn to those who wield violence and power. Why study to be a doctor or a lawyer when such academic toil was not rewarded, indeed often considered worthless? Why uphold a common morality, including hard work, when the outcome was destitution? Why have any personal or moral standards when these standards were irrelevant?

The killers and warlords became the object of sexual fantasy. The paramilitary leader Željko Ražnatović, known as Arkan, was, according to Serbian opinion polls, one of the most desired men in the country.

War turned Belgrade, along with every other capital caught up in conflict, into Caligula’s Rome. There was a moral lassitude in the air, bred of hopelessness and apathy. The city’s best-known gangsters, sometimes in the company of Milošević’s son Marko, who threatened bar patrons with automatic weapons, cruised the streets in BMWs and Mercedes. They filled the nightclubs of Belgrade, dressed in their expensive black Italian suits and leather jackets.

At the Lotus, one such club in the downtown area of the city, pulsating music thumped through the blue haze of cigarette smoke and strobe lights. Scantily clad strippers spun around poles and leapt into two huge floodlit animal cages with men and women from the dance floor. The young couples began to peel off their shirts and simulate sex with the dancers.

“Stay a little longer,” a patron shouted at me. “The simulation is just the beginning.”

Under a spotlight a stripper known as Nina, a star of Belgrade’s violent and frenetic nightlife, descended a spiral staircase into the mayhem. Her lover and bodyguard, a stocky woman with closely cropped hair and a German Luger tucked in her belt, followed her menacingly from the shadows. Nina moved seductively around the dance floor bathed in light. She nuzzled up to the patrons.

War breaks down long-established prohibitions against violence, destruction, and murder. And with this often comes the crumbling of sexual, social, and political norms as the domination and brutality of the battlefield is carried into personal life. Rape, mutilation, abuse, and theft are the natural outcome of a world in which force rules, in which human beings are objects. The infection is pervasive. Society in wartime becomes atomized. It rewards personal survival skills and very often leaves those with decency and compassion trampled under the rush. The pride one feels in a life devoted to the nation or to an institution or a career or an ideal is often replaced by shame and guilt. Those who have lived upright, socially productive lives are punished for their gullibility in the new social order.

The wars in the Balkans saw the rise of the rape camps, places where women were kept under guard and repeatedly abused by Serbian paramilitary forces. When this became boring–for perverse sex, like killing, must constantly entail the new and bizarre–the women were mutilated and killed, reportedly on video. Women were also held in very similar conditions, and later murdered, in Argentina during the Dirty War. Sexual slaves in Argentina were used and then discarded like waste, their drugged bodies at times dumped from helicopters into the sea.

Disturbing stuff to think about, especially when you consider the parallels visible in American society. We may not broadcast porn on public television stations, but we don’t have to—we have the Internet now. And we all know parental controls are largely a joke, primarily because parents won’t consistently use them. No shocker there.

What’s disturbing to me is how the sort of decadence described by Chris Hedges doesn’t appear restricted to war-ravaged nations. The U.S. is waging wars elsewhere on the planet, and while none of that touches our streets, the decadence and sex obsession absolutely has. I wonder why that is. Is it the mindset that accompanies a sense of superiority ushered in during wartime, though not necessarily resulting from it? Like maybe war and this form of decadent living are both symptoms of a larger societal ailment?

That’s enough of that for now.

“…from now on, all resistance is local.”

Been a busy week. In the few minutes I have this morning before heading to work I’d like to share this short excerpt from a speech by Chris Hedges on inverted totalitarianism:

Chris Hedges is the author of several books, a number of which I’ve read and greatly appreciate, including War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, Losing Moses on the Freeway, I Don’t Believe in Atheists, American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle, among others.