The War on the Desperate

blood diamonds
During the 2004 US election campaign, some enlightened progressives kept pointing out that “tax cuts” is just Orwell-speak for “service cuts”, and that those (mostly but not entirely conservatives) who were trying to bribe taxpayers with their own money through service cuts were essentially acknowledging their own inherent incompetence (as government officials responsible for administration of public programs) and telling people “Don’t trust us to spend your money — vote for us and we’ll give you some of your money back and leave you to look after yourself instead. Geez — don’t ask us to run it for you, we’ll just waste it. But vote for us, please, for being honest enough to tell you so.”

Seen in this light, it is hard to see how such a tactic could possibly succeed, but such is our loathing and distrust for government that it has proven to be a powerful mechanism for holding on to power. Imagine if McDonalds were to use an analogous campaign: “Our stuff’s so crappy that if you place a $10 order with us, we’ll only give you a $1 soft drink and insist you take the other $9 back so you can spend it making your own, healthy dinner.”

The shrillest Orwell-speak of the day is, of course, “the war on terror”. As many have pointed out, the expression is as meaningless as Orwellianisms like “Ignorance is Strength”. Terror is an emotional reaction, and one cannot (except perhaps through extremely powerful self-administered drugs), wage a war on one’e emotional reactions. A more appropriate, but less politically malleable, expression, would be “the war on terrorism” or, better, since it at least hints at a target, “the war on terrorists“. So what, then, are terrorists? This is not a new term, despite its recent use as a convenient label (replacing the old “communist”) for anyone who some fear-monger wants to sic the masses on for personal advantage in a fit of ideological excess. A terrorist is, and always has been, anyone who uses violence (physical or psychological) to achieve a result. All acts of war, even “pre-emptive” ones that are prettied up for popular consumption, are by definition terrorist acts, and their initiators, states, and agents, are by definition terrorists. Bush destroyed Iraq through “shock and awe” aerial bombing principally of innocent civilians, using violence to achieve an intended result.

Whether or not it actually achieves the intended result is, significantly and tragically, irrelevant. Terrorist activities are almost invariably hysterically emotional, absurdly simplistic over-reactions, designed for the most part to demonstrate to the terrorists’ supporters that they are at least doing something. We see this again tragically in Lebanon today, perpetrated by the terrorists on both sides against the hapless civilian victims. All that matters politically is that violence is used with the intention of achieving a result. That intention need not be, and rarely is, rational. Terrorist actions, whether by democratically-elected or unelected governments of states, or by stateless groups or militias or police forces or private armies or individuals, are essentially acts of desperation. The bankrupting of the US economy and creation of the largest and worst-managed security bureaucracy in the history of civilization as a response to 9/11, resulting in a massive worsening of security, paranoia, and utter dysfunction (evident to anyone passing through a US airport) can be rationally seen as nothing other than an act of desperation.

So what if, just as we stopped talking about “tax cuts” and started insisting on the more accurate term “service cuts”, we refused to accept the use of the misleading and absurd term “war on terror” and instead demanded that it be called what it really is: the war on the desperate?

Who are the desperate (literally, “those without hope”), these people driven to use violence to achieve a result because they have lost all hope that anything else could possibly work? There are those who would presume that the desperate have been goaded by some combination of insanity and ideological exploitation. But we are all capable of terrorist acts under the appropriate desperate circumstances — an attack on a personal loved one, a response to a death-threat, a massive theft of our personal security, dignity or means of survival. Most desperation is profoundly personal, and even when it takes ideological wing, it almost invariably has at its roots some traumatic event or chronic series of events or circumstances that left the perpetrator no apparent choice but to become desperate and to respond with violence. It is in our nature to behave in this way in desperate circumstances. That is who we are.

But when you start thinking about how to wage war with all the desperate people of the world who might be planning, or might be encouraged to participate in, an act of violence against you, rational or not, it must change your thinking on the strategy and tactics for such a war. Such a war cannot be won, or even engaged with any degree of cohesiveness. The ‘enemy’ is unidentifiable for a start, impossible to assess in strength or numbers, and constantly changing. The acts of violence could be so varied and would be so unpredictable as to make any kind of defensive strategy impossible, utterly futile. So there is no offensive or defensive strategy, and no credible offensive or defensive tactics either. It’s like fighting ghosts, or next year’s natural disasters — it cannot be done.

You are left with asking how the world got to the state that so many are so desperate that we are all convulsed with anxiety, fear and hysteria about insecurity in the face of all these desperate people?

This is the right question to ask, but the mere thought of grappling with it fills the politicians, and the other simplistic thinkers among the rich and powerful, with fear and loathing. It is a complex question and, like all complex questions it has no simple, or even complicated, answer. We can do some things that might help: fight poverty, man-made disease, overpopulation and ecological crises that render the land incapable of supporting life without desperation, try to redistribute wealth and power more equitably among the world’s people, work together to try to understand why our current political, social, economic, communication, educational, health and other systems and institutions are so dysfunctional and broken, and how through collaboration we might just start to start to make them just a little bit better.

It might cause us to utter a collective sigh at the gargantuan task such understanding and such improvement and such utter change would require of us. All this for nothing?! we might cry, lamenting the huge amount of effort and blood we invested and lost over the last thirty millennia, all to construct our amazing, but fragile and failing and unsustainable, civilization. And now you’re telling us we need to take it all apart, and start again, and endure massive sacrifice, and give up what we won with such struggle, just for the sake of the desperate billions who have nothing, and nothing to lose?

Such an admission, such a commitment to yet another beginning, would take immense courage. Or, more likely, it will come, sooner or later, in its own time, when we realize that we are all becoming, day by day, increasingly desperate, increasingly prepared to become terrorists in defense of the increasingly indefensible. It will come, not as a collective blinding flash of collective human intelligence, but as, one by one, we realize we have no other choice. The “war on the desperate” cannot be won, and it must end. We must find another way.

Postscript: For those who have been asking for another health update, there is not much new to report. Thanks to medical system incompetence it took a week after the prednisone to get me started on the complimentary mesalamine anti-inflammatory, anti-bleeding, anti-diarrheal medicine, and I am now very slowly improving, but the exhaustion, pain and prednisone-induced insomnia have done a lot of damage, and it’s going to be a slow process even before I can start on my promised self-experimentation healing program. Expect blogging here to be sporadic, and please appreciate that while I read carefully all comments and e-mails I just don’t have it to be able to respond right now. Thanks for all your caring andideas and encouragement. I love you all.

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3 Responses to The War on the Desperate

  1. fighting next year’s natural disasters -Sure you can!Build your round house up on 20′ earthquake proof stilts,and have an underground storage room 10′ below the surface.There – your ready for floods and earthquakes and storms up to a CAT 5 storm with a nice reinforced round house (square homes always get knocked down…) and well – if a tornado comes your way, hide out in the storage room underground.Make sure your round home is fire proof, hail proof, and has it’s own backup solar power system, water storage and treatment system and stored food.Getting ready for the unthinkable is basically an engineering problem. If you can build a solid bullet proof home, that is what you should do. The same people always being hit by hurricanes should stop building square new england houses in the tropics!

  2. Jordan Mechano says:

    I find lately I seem (to myself) much more sympathetic to so called eco-terrorists and the like. I’ve never really been prone to violence, except in utterly desperate circumstances, but I’m wondering more and more how useful and “right” violence can be. I’m glad you talk about a “third way”, one that is not on the side of terrorists or the civilization thumpers, but how in the hell do we figure out what it is? And more importantly, how do we get together enough like minds to initiate such change? Perhaps we don’t need to get millions on board. Maybe we only need a few, close friends who we can work with doing what we personally enjoy, in a way that proves the third way is possible.

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