[spectre] Critical homage to Fredy Perlman
louise.desrenards at free.fr
Fri Jul 28 23:59:33 CEST 2006
Anniversary of Fredy Perlman's death: July 26 1985
A possible biography online in wikipedia
July 25 2006
Homage to Fredy Perlman
Thanks a post from Detroit by cassquarter at yahoo.com to
nettime-fr-raw.newmorning at anart.no
ANTI-SEMITISM & THE BEIRUT POGROM
Escape from death in a gas chamber or a Pogrom, or incarceration in a
concentration camp, may give a thoughtful and capable writer, Solzhenitsyn
for example, profound insights into many of the central elements of
contemporary existence, but such an experience does not, in itself, make
Solzhenitsyn a thinker, a writer, or even a critic of concentration camps;
it does not, in itself, confer any special powers. In another person the
experience might lie dormant as a potentiality, or remain forever
meaningless, or it might contribute to making the person an ogre. In short,
the experience is an indelible part of the individual’s past but it does not
determine his future; the individual is free to choose his future; he is
even free to choose to abolish his freedom, in which case he chooses in bad
faith and is a Salaud (J.P. Sartre’s precise philosophical term for a person
who makes such a choice [The usual English translation is “Bastard”]).
My observations are borrowed from Sartre; I’d like to apply them, not to
Solzhenitsyn, but to myself, as a specific individual, and to the American
cheerleaders rooting for the State of Israel, as a specific choice.
I was one of three small children removed by our elders from a Central
European country a month before the Nazis invaded the country and began
rounding up Jews. Only part of my extended family left; the rest remained
and were all rounded up; of these, all my cousins, aunts, and grandparents
died in Nazi concentration camps or gas chambers except two uncles, whom
I’ll mention later.
A month more and I, too, would have been one of those who actually underwent
the rationally-planned scientific extermination of human beings, the central
experience of so many people in an age of highly developed science and
productive forces, but I wouldn’t have been able to write about it.
I was one of those who escaped. I spent my childhood among Quechua-speaking
people of the Andean highlands, but I didn’t learn to speak Quechua and I
didn’t ask myself why; I spoke to a Quechua in a language foreign to both of
us, the Conquistador’s language. I wasn’t aware of myself as a refugee nor
of the Quechuas as refugees in their own land; I knew no more about the
terrors - the expropriations, persecutions and pogroms, the annihilation of
an ancient culture - experienced by their ancestors than I knew about the
terrors experienced by mine. To me the Quechuas were generous hospitable,
guileless, and I thought more of an aunt who respected and liked them than
of a relative who cheated them and was contemptuous of them and called them
dirty and primitive.
My relative’s cheating was my first contact with the double standard, the
fleecing of outsiders to enrich insiders, the moral adage that said: It’s
all right if it’s We who do it.
My relative’s contempt was my first experience with racism, which gave this
relative an affinity with the Pogromists she had fled from; her narrow
escape from them did not make her a critic of Pogromists; the experience
probably contributed nothing to her personality, not even her identification
with the Conquistador, since this was shared by Europeans who did not share
my relative’s experience of narrowly escaping from a concentration camp.
Oppressed European peasants had identified with Conquistadores who carried a
more vicious oppression to non-Europeans already before my relative’s
My relative did make use of her experience years later, when she chose to be
a rooter for the State of Israel, at which time she did not renounce her
contempt toward the Quechuas; on the contrary, she then applied her contempt
toward people in other parts of the world, people she had never met or been
among. But I wasn’t concerned with the character of her choice at the time;
I was more concerned with the chocolates she brought me.
In my teens I was brought to America, which was a synonym for New York even
to people already in America among the Quechuas; it was a synonym for much
else, as I was very slowly to learn. Shortly after my arrival in America,
the state power of the Central European country of my origin was seized by a
well-organized gang of egalitarians who thought they could bring about
universal emancipation by occupying State offices and becoming policemen,
and the new State of Israel fought its first successful war and turned an
indigenous population of Semites into internal refugees like the Quechuas
and exiled refugees like the Central European Jews. I should have wondered
why the Semitic refugees and the European refugees who claimed to be
Semitic, two peoples with so much in common, did not make common cause
against common oppressors, but I was far too occupied trying to find my way
>From an elementary school friend who was considered a hooligan by my
parents, and also from my parents themselves, I slowly learned that America
was the place where anyone would want to be, something like Paradise, but a
Paradise that remained out of reach even after one entered America. America
was a land of clerks and factory workers, but neither clerical nor factory
work were America. My hooligan friend summarized it all very simply: there
were suckers and hustlers, and you had to be dumb to become a sucker. My
parents were less explicit; they said: Study hard. The implied motivation
was: God forbid you should become a clerk or factory worker! Become
something other: a professional or a manager. At that time I didn’t know
these other callings were also America’s, that with every rung reached,
Paradise remained as unreachable as before. I didn’t know that the
professional’s or even the clerk’s or worker’s satisfaction came, not from
the fullness of his own life, but from the rejection of his own life, from
identification with the great process taking place outside him, the process
of unfettered industrial destruction. The results of this process could be
watched In movies or newspapers, though not yet on Television, which would
soon bring the process into everyone home; the satisfaction was that of the
voyeur, the peeper. At that time I didn’t know that this process was the
most concrete synonym for America.
Once in America, I had no use for my experience of narrowly escaping a Nazi
concentration camp; the experience couldn’t help me climb the adder toward
Paradise and might even hinder me; my hurried climb might have been slowed
considerably or even stopped altogether if I had tried to empathize with
the condition of the labor camp inmate I might have become, for I would have
realized what it was that trade the prospect of factory work so fearsome: it
differed from the other condition in that there were no gas chambers and in
that the factory worker spent only his weekdays inside.
I wasn’t alone in having no use for my Central European experience. My
relatives had no use for it either. During that decade I met one of my two
uncles who had actually lived through a Nazi concentration camp. Once in
America, even this uncle had no use for his experience; he wanted nothing
more than to forget the Pogrom and everything associated with it; he wanted
only to climb the rungs of America; he wanted to look and sound and act no
differently from other Americans. My parents had exactly the same attitude.
I was told that my other uncle had survived the camps and gone to Israel,
only to be hit by a car soon after his arrival.
The State of Israel was not interesting to me during that decade, although I
heard talk of it. My relatives spoke with a certain pride of the existence
of a State with Jewish policemen, a Jewish army, Jewish judges and factory
managers, in short a State totally unlike Nazi Germany and just like
America, My relatives, whatever their personal situations, identified with
the Jewish policemen and not with the policed, with the factory owners and
not the Jewish workers, with the Jewish hustlers and not the suckers, an
identification which was understandable among people who wanted to forget
their close encounter with labor camps. But none of them wanted to go there;
they were already in America.
My relatives gave grudgingly to the Zionist cause and were baffled - all
except my racist relative - by the unqualified enthusiasm of second to nth
generation Americans for a distant State with Jewish policemen and teachers
and managers, since these people were already policemen and teachers and
managers in America, My racist relative understood what the enthusiasm was
based on: racial solidarity. But I wasn’t aware of this at the time. I was
not an overbright American high-schooler and I thought racial solidarity was
something confined to Nazis, Afrikaaners and American Southerners.
I was starting to be familiar with the traits of the Nazis who’d almost
captured me: the racism that reduced human beings to their genealogical
connections over five or six generations, the crusading nationalism that
considered the rest of humanity an obstacle, the Gleichshaltung that cut off
the individuals freedom to choose, the technological efficiency that made
small humans mere fodder for great machines, the bully militarism that
pitted walls of tanks against a cavalry and exacted a hundred times the
losses it sustained, the official paranoia that pictured the enemy, poorly
armed townspeople and villagers, as a nearly omnipotent conspiracy of cosmic
scope. But I didn’t see that these traits had anything to do with America or
It was only during my next decade, as in American college student with a
mild interest in history and philosophy, that I began to acquire a
smattering of knowledge about Israel and Zionism, not because I was
particularly interested in these subjects but because they were included in
my readings. I was neither hostile nor friendly; I was indifferent; I still
had no use for my experience as a refugee.
But I didn’t remain indifferent to Israel or Zionism. This was the decade of
Israel’s spectacular capture and trial of the Good German Eichmann, and of
Israel’s spectacular invasion of large parts of Egypt, Syria and Jordan in a
six-day Blitzkrieg, a decade when Israel was news for everyone, not just for
I didn’t have any unconventional thoughts about the obedient Eichmann except
the thought that he couldn’t be so exceptional since I had already met
people like him in America. But some of my readings did make me start
wondering about my Zionist relative’s racism.
I learned that people like the ancient Hebrews, Akkadians, Arabs,
Phoenicians and Ethiopians had all come from the land of Shem (the Arabian
Peninsula) and had all spoken the language of Shem, which was what made them
Shemites or Semites. I learned that the Jewish religion had originated among
Semites in the ancient Levantine State Judah, the Christian religion among
Semites in the ancient Levantine towns Nazareth and Jerusalem, the
Mohammedan religion among Semites in the ancient Arabian towns Mecca and
Medina, and that for the past 1300 years the region called Palestine had
been a sacred place to the Islamic Semites who lived there and in
I also learned that the religions of European and American Jews, like the
religions of European and American Christians, had been elaborated, during
almost two millennia, by Europeans and more recently by Americans.
If Europeans and American Jews were Semites in terms of their religion, then
European and American Christians were also Semites, a notion that was
generally considered absurd.
If Jews were Semites in terms of the language of their Sacred Book, then all
European and American Christians were Greeks or Italians, a notion almost as
I started to suspect that my Zionist relative’s only connection to the Zion
in the Levant was a genealogical connection traced, not over six, but over
more than sixty generations. But I had come to consider such racial
reckoning a peculiarity of Nazis, Afrikaaners and American Southerners.
I was uneasy. I thought surely there was more to it than that; surely those
who claimed to descend from the victims of all that racism were not carriers
of a racism ten times more thorough.
I knew little of the Zionist Movement, but enough to start being repelled. I
knew the Movement had originally had two wings, one of which, the Socialist
one, I could understand because I was starting to empathize with victims of
oppression, not from insights I gained from my own experience but from books
equally accessible to others; the other wing of Zionism was incomprehensible
The egalitarian or Left Zionists, as [then understood them, did not want to
be assimilated into the European states that persecuted them, some because
they didn’t think they ever could be, others because they were repelled by
industrializing Europe and America. The Messiah, their Movement, would
deliver Israel from exile and guide her to Zion, to something altogether
different, to a Paradise without suckers or hustlers. Some of them, even
more metaphorically, hoped the Messiah would deliver the oppressed from
their oppressors, if not everywhere, then at least in a millennial
egalitarian Utopia located in a province of the Ottoman Empire, and they
were ready to join with the Islamic residents of Zion against Ottoman,
Levantine and British oppressors. They shared this dream with Christian
millenarians who had been trying for more than a millennium to found Zion in
one or another province of Europe; both had the same roots, but I suspected
the left Zionists had inherited their millenarianism from the Christians.
The egalitarian Zionists were arrogant in thinking the Islamic residents of
Zion would embrace European leftists as liberators, and they were as naive
as the egalitarians who had seized state power in the country of my birth,
thinking the millennium would begin as soon as they occupied State offices
and became policemen. But as far as I could see, they weren’t racists. The
other Zionists, the Right, who by the time I reached college had all but
supplanted the Left, at least in America, were explicit racists arid
assimilationists; they wanted a State dominated by a Race ever so thinly
disguised as a religion, a State that would not be something altogether
different, but exactly the same as America and the other states in the
Family of Nations. I couldn’t understand this, for it seemed to me that
these Zionists, who included statists, industrializers and technocrats, were
not only racists but also Conversos.
Earlier Conversos were Jews in fifteenth century Spain who, to avoid
persecution, discovered that the long-awaited Jewish Messiah had already
arrived, a millennium and a half earlier, in the person of Jewish prophet
Jesse, the Crucified. Some of these Conversos then joined the Inquisition
and persecuted Jews who had not made this discovery.
The modern Conversos hadn’t become Catholics; Catholicism was not the
dominant creed in the twentieth century; Science and Technology were. I
thought Jesse had at least affirmed, if only as relics, some of the traits
of the ancient human community, whereas Science and Technology affirmed
nothing human; they destroyed culture as well as nature as well as human
It seemed sad that the long-preserved and carefully-guarded specificities of
a cultural minority that had refused to be absorbed were to shatter on the
discovery that the technocratic State was the Messiah and the Industrial
Process the long-awaited millennium. This made the whole trajectory
meaningless. The dream of these racist Conversos was repulsive to me.
It wasn’t until the following decade, when I was over thirty, that my
nearness to the Nazi Pogrom began to be meaningful to me. This
transvaluation of my early experience happened suddenly, and was caused by
something like a chance encounter, an encounter which, also by chance,
included an odd reference to the State of Israel.
This was the decade when America waged its war of extermination against a
people and an ancient culture of the Far East.
It happened that I was visiting my Americanized relatives at the same time
that my Andean aunt was with them for the first time since their separation.
This was the aunt who had respected the Quechua-speaking people, although
not enough to learn their language, and had stayed among them when the
The conversation among the relatives turned to pious reflections about the
uncle who had gone to Israel and been killed by a car after having survived
the Nazi concentration camps.
My Andean aunt couldn’t believe what she heard. She asked her relatives if
they had all gone crazy. The story about the car accident had been told to
the children so often that the adults had come to believe it.
That man wasn’t killed in an accident, she shouted. He committed suicide. He
had survived the concentration camps because he had been a technician
employed in applying chemical science to the operation of the gas chambers.
He had then made the mistake of emigrating to Israel, where his
collaboration had been made public knowledge. He probably couldn’t face the
accusing eyes; maybe he feared retaliation.
My first response to this revelation was revulsion against a human being who
could be so morally degraded as to gas his own kin and fellow-captives. But
the more I thought about him, the more I had to admit there had at least
been a shred of moral integrity in his final self-destructive act; that act
didn’t make him a moral paradigm, but it contrasted sharply with the acts of
people who lacked even that shred of moral integrity, people who were
returning from the Far East and affirming their deeds, actually boasting of
the unnatural atrocities they had inflicted on their fellow human beings.
And I asked myself who the others really were, the pure ones who had exposed
and judged Eichmann the obedient German.
I didn’t know anything about the people in Israel and had never met an
Israeli, but I was increasingly aware of the loud American cheerleaders for
the State of Israel, and not the Left Zionists among them but the others, my
racist relative’s friends. The Leftists had all but vanished in a dark
sectarian Limbo no outsider could penetrate, a Limbo that stank almost as
strongly as the one that held Messiah Lenin’s and Stalin’s heirs, with sects
twisted out of shape by the existence of the State of Israel, ranging from
those who claimed their seizure of power was all that was needed to turn the
State of Israel into an egalitarian community, to those who claimed the
existing State of Israel was already the egalitarian community.
But the Left Zionists shouted only at each other.
It was the others who made all the din, who shouted at everyone else. And
these were explicit about what they admired in the State of Israel; they
affirmed it, they boasted of it, and it had nothing to do with the ailing
wing’s egalitarianism. What they admired was:
-the crusading nationalism that considered the humanity surrounding it
as nothing but obstacles to its flowering;
-the industrial potency of the Race that had succeeded in denaturing the
desert and making it bloom;
-the efficiency of the human beings remade into operators of big tanks
and incredibly accurate jets;
-the technological sophistication of the instruments of death
themselves, infinitely superior to that of the Nazis;
-the spectacularly enterprising secret police whose prowess was surely
not inferior, for such a small State, to that of the CIA, KGB or Gestapo;
- the bully militarism that pitted the latest inventions of
life-killing Science against a motley collection of weapons, and exacted a
hundred or a thousand times the losses it sustained.
This last boast, which expressed the morality of exacting hundreds of eyes
for an eye and thousands of teeth for a tooth, seemed particularly repulsive
in the mouth of a cheerleader for a theocratic State where an ethical elite
claimed to provide inspired guidance on moral questions; but this will
surprise only those uninformed about history’s theocracies.
During this decade, the racism, the anti-Semitism, to be more precise, Of
these admirers of the State of Israel became virulent. Zion’s expropriated
Semites were no longer considered human beings; they were Backward Arabs;
only those among them who had been turned into good assimilated Israelis
could be called human; the others were dirty Primitives. And Primitives, in
the definition given a few centuries earlier by Conquistadores, not only had
no right to resist humiliation, expropriation and desolation; Primitives had
no right to exist; they only squandered nature s resources, they didn’t know
what to do with God’s precious gifts! Only God’s chosen knew how to use the
Great Father’s gifts, and they knew exactly what to do with them.
Yet even while dwelling on the backwardness of the expropriated, the
cheerleaders became paranoid and pictured the pathetic resistance of the
expropriated as a vast conspiracy of untold power and nearly cosmic scope.
Sartre’s expression mauvaise foi [The usual English translation is “Bad
faith.”] is too weak to characterize the posture chosen by these people, but
it’s not my concern to coin another expression.
I survived into my forties, thanks partly to the fact that America still
hadn’t exterminated itself and the rest of humanity with the high-powered
incinerants and poisons with which it was mining [Mining in the sense of
setting explosive mines, making earth lethal], or rather undermining, its
own as well as other people’s lands.
This decade combined what I had earlier thought uncombinable; it combined a
barrage of revelations about the Holocaust, in the form of movies, plays,
books and articles, with the Pogrom, perpetrated on Levantine Semites in
Beirut by the State of Israel. [Written in mid-August, this statement
referred to Israel’s invasion and not yet to the Pogrom in the strict 19th
century sense perpetrated in September. (Sept 16-18, 1982 ,to be exact)]
The revelations touched the Holocaust in Vietnam only marginally; maybe two
generations have to pass before such filth is hung out to air. The
revelations were almost all about the Holocaust I had narrowly escaped as a
People who don’t understand human freedom might think the terrible
revelations could have only one effect, they could only turn people against
the perpetrators of such atrocities, they could only make people empathize
with the victims, they could only contribute to a resolve to abolish the
very possibility of a repeat of such dehumanizing persecution and
cold-blooded murder. But, for better or worse, such experiences, whether
personally lived or learned from revelations, are nothing but the field over
which human freedom soars like a bird of prey. The revelations about the
forty-year-old Pogrom have even been turning up as justifications for a
Pogrom is a Russian word that used to refer, in past years that now seem
almost benign, to a riot of cudgel-armed men against poorly armed villagers
with different cultural traits; the more heavily the State was involved in
the riot, the more heinous was the Pogrom. The overwhelmingly stronger
attackers projected their own character as bullies onto their weaker
victims, convincing themselves that their victims were rich, powerful,
well-armed and allied with the Devil. The attackers also projected their own
violence onto their victims, constructing stories of the victims’ brutality
out of details taken from their own repertory of deeds. In nineteenth
century Russia, a Pogrom was considered particularly violent if fifty people
The statistics underwent a complete metamorphosis in the twentieth century,
when the State became the main rioter. The statistics of modern German and
Russian and Turkish state-run Pogroms are known; the statistics from Vietnam
and Beirut are not public yet.
Beirut and its inhabitants had already been made desolate by the presence of
the violent resistance movement of the expropriated refugees ousted from
Zion; if the casualties of those clashes were added to the number killed by
the State of Israel’s direct involvement in the riot - but I’ll stop this; I
don’t want to play numbers games.
The trick of declaring war against the armed resistance and then attacking
the resisters’ unarmed kin as well as the surrounding population with the
most gruesome products of Death-Science - this trick is not new. American
Pioneers were pioneers in this too; they made it standard practice to
declare war on indigenous warriors and then to murder and burn villages with
only women and children in them. This is already modern war, what we know as
war against civilian populations; it has also been called, more candidly,
mass murder or genocide.
Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that the perpetrators of a Pogrom portray
themselves as the victims, in the present case as victims of the Holocaust.
Herman Melville noticed over a century ago, in his analysis of the
metaphysics of Indian-hating, that those who made a full-time profession of
hunting and murdering indigenous people of this continent always made
themselves appear, even in their own eyes, as the victims of manhunts. The
use the Nazis made of the International Jewish Conspiracy is better known:
during all the years of atrocities defying belief, the Nazis considered
themselves the victimized.
It’s as if the experience of being a victim gave exemption from human
solidarity, as if it gave special powers, as if it gave a license to kill.
Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised, but I can’t keep myself from being angry,
because such a posture is the posture of a Salaud, the posture of one who
denies human freedom, who denies that he chooses himself as killer. The
experience, whether personally lived or learned from revelations, explains
and determines nothing; it is nothing but a phony alibi.
Melville analyzed the moral integrity of the Indian-hater.
I’m talking about modern Pogromists, and more narrowly about cheerleaders
for Pogroms. I’m talking about people who haven’t personally killed fifty or
five or even one human being.
I’m talking about America, where the quest is to immerse oneself in Paradise
while avoiding any contact with its dirty work, where only a minority is
still involved in the personal doing of the dirty work, where the vast
majority are full-time voyeurs, peepers, professors, call them what you
Among the voyeurs, I’m concentrating on the voyeurs of Holocausts and
Pogroms. I have to keep referring to what’s on the screen because that’s
what’s being watched. But my concern is with the watcher, with one who
chooses himself a voyeur, specifically a voyeur of Holocausts, a cheerleader
for death squads.
Mention the words Beirut and Pogrom in the same sentence to such a one, and
he’ll vomit all the morality inside him: he won’t vomit much.
The likeliest response you’ll get is a moronic chuckle and a cynical laugh.
I’m reminded of my uncle, the one who wasn’t hit by a car, who at least had
the shred of moral integrity to see what others saw and reject it, and I
contrast my uncle with this person who either sees nothing at all, or who
cynically affirms what he sees, cynically accepts himself.
If he’s an intellectual, a professor, he’ll respond with the exact
equivalent of the moronic grin or the cynical laugh but with words; he’ll
bombard you with sophistries, half truths and outright lies which are
perfectly transparent to him even as he utters them.
This is not an airy, wide-eyed idealist but a gross, down-to-earth
property-oriented materialist with no illusions about what constitutes
expropriation of what he calls Real Estate. Yet this real estate man will
start telling you that the Levantine Zion is a Jewish Land and he’ll point
to a two-thousand year old Title.
He calls Hitler a madman for having claimed the Sudetenland was a German
land because he totally rejects the rules that would have made it a German
land, international peace treaties are included in his rules, violent
expropriations are not.
Yet suddenly he pulls out a set of rules which, if he really accepted them,
would pulverize the entire edifice of Real Property. If he really accepted
such rules, he would be selling plots in Gdansk to Kashubians returning from
exile, tracts in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota to Ojibwas
reappropriating their homeland, estates in Iran, Iraq and much of Turkey to
homeward bound Indian Parsees, and he would even have to lease parts of Zion
itself to Chinese descendants of Nestorian Christians, and to many others
Such arguments have more affinity with the moronic chuckle than with the
The cynical laugh translated into words would say: We (they always say We)
We conquered the Primitives, expropriated them and ousted them; the
expropriated are still resisting, and in the meantime We have acquired two
generations who have no other home but Zion; being Realists, we know we can
end the resistance once and for all by exterminating the expropriated, Such
cynicism without a shred of moral integrity might be realistic, but it might
also turn out to be what C.W. Mills called Crackpot Realism, because the
resistance might survive and spread and it might go on as long as the Irish.
There’s yet another response, the response of the cudgel-armed Defense
League bully who thinks the absence of a brown shirt makes him
He clenches his fist or tightens his grip on his club and shouts: Traitor!
This response is the most ominous, for it claims that We are a club to which
all are welcome, but the membership of some is mandatory.
In this usage, Traitor does not mean anti-Semite, since it is aimed at
people who empathize with the plight of the current Semites. Traitor does
not mean Pogromist, since it is aimed at people who still empathize with the
victims of the Pogrom. This term is one of the few components of the
vocabulary of a racist through the ages; it means: Traitor to the Race.
And here I reach the single element which the new anti-Semite had not yet
shared with the old anti-Semite: Gleichschaltung, the totalitarian
“synchronization" of all political activity and expression. The entire Race
must march in step, to the same drumbeat; all are to obey.
The uniqueness of the condemned Eichmann becomes reduced to a difference in
It seems to me that such goons are not preservers of the traditions of a
persecuted culture. They’re Conversos, but not to the Catholicism of
Fernando y Isabela; they’re Conversos to the political practice of the
The long exile is over; the persecuted refugee at long last returns to Zion,
but so badly scarred he’s unrecognizable, he has completely lost his self;
he returns as anti-Semite, as Pogromist, as mass murderer; the ages of exile
and suffering are still included in his makeup, but only as
self-justifications, and as a repertory of horrors to impose on Primitives
and even on Earth herself.
I think I’ve now shown that the experience of the Holocaust, whether lived
or peeped, does not in itself make an individual a critic of Pogroms, and
also that it does not confer special powers or give anyone a license to kill
or make someone a mass murderer.
But I haven’t even touched the large question that is raised by all this:
Can I begin to explain why someone chooses himself a mass murderer?
I think I can begin to answer. At the risk of plagiarizing Sartre’s portrait
of the old anti-Semite, I can at least try to point to one or two of the
elements in the field of choice of the new anti-Semite.
I could start by noticing that the new anti-Semite is not really so
different from any other TV-watcher, and that TV-watching is somewhere near
the core of the choice (I include newspapers and movies under the
abbreviation for ‘tell-a-vision’).
What the watcher sees on the screen are some of the "interesting” deeds,
sifted and censored, of the monstrous ensemble in which he plays a trivial
but daily role. The central but not often televised activity of this vast
ensemble is industrial and clerical labor, forced labor, or just simply
labor, the Arbeit which macht frei. [“Work Liberates”: a slogan posted at
the entrance to Nazi slave labor camps.]
Solzhenitsyn, in his multi-volumed Gulag Archipelago, gave a profound
analysis of what such Arbeit does to a human individual’s outer and inner
life; a comparably profound analysis has yet to be made of the
administration that ‘synchronizes” the activity, the training institutions
that produce the Eichmanns and Chemists who apply rational means to the
perpetration of the irrational ends of their superiors.
I can’t summarize Solzhenitsyn’s findings; his books have to be read. In a
brief space I can only say that the part of life spent in Arbeit, the
triviality of existence in a commodity market as seller or customer, worker
or client, leaves an individual without kinship or community or meaning; it
dehumanizes him, evacuates him; it leaves nothing inside but the trivia that
make up his outside. He no longer has the centrality, the significance, the
self-powers given to all their members by ancient communities that no longer
exist. He doesn’t even have the phony centrality given by religions which
preserved a memory of the ancient qualities while reconciling people to
worlds where those qualities were absent. Even the religions have been
evacuated, pared down to empty rituals whose meaning has long been lost.
The gap is always there; it’s like hunger: it hurts. Yet nothing seems to
Ah, but there’s something that does fill it or at least seems to; it may be
sawdust and not grated cheese, but it gives the stomach the illusion that
it’s been fed; it may be a total abdication of self-powers, a
self-annihilation, but it creates the illusion of self-fulfillment, of
reappropriation of the lost self-powers.
This something is the Told Vision which can be watched on off hours, and
preferably all the time.
By choosing himself a Voyeur, the individual can watch everything he no
All the self-powers he no longer has, It has, And It has even more powers;
It has powers no individual ever had; It has the power to turn deserts into
forests and forests into deserts; It has the power to annihilate peoples and
cultures who have survived since the beginning of time and to leave no trace
that they ever existed; It even has the power to resuscitate the vanished
peoples and cultures and endow them with eternal life in the conditioned air
In case the reader hasn’t already guessed, It is the technological ensemble,
the industrial process, the Messiah called Progress. It is America.
The individual deprived of meaning chooses to take the final leap into
meaninglessness by identifying with the very process that deprives him. He
becomes We the exploited identifying with the exploiter. Henceforth his
powers are Our powers, the powers of the ensemble, the powers of the
alliance of workers with their own bosses known as the Developed Nation. The
powerless individual becomes an essential switch in the all-powerful,
all-knowing, all-seeing God, the central computer; he becomes one with the
His immersion becomes an orgy during the crusades against those who are
still outside the machine: untouched trees, wolves, Primitives.
During such crusades he becomes one of the last Pioneers; he joins hands
across the centuries with the Conquistadores of the southern part and the
Pioneers of the northern part of this double continent; he joins hands with
Indian-haters and Discoverers and Crusaders; he feels America running in his
veins at last, the America that was already brewing in the cauldrons of
European Alchemists long before Colon (the Converso) reached the Caribs,
Raleigh the Algonquians or Cartier the Iroquoians; he gives the coup de
grace to his remaining humanity by identifying with the process
exterminating culture, nature and humanity.
If I went on I would probably come to results already found by W. Reich in
his study of the mass psychology of Fascism. It galls me that a new Fascism
should choose to use the experience of the victims of the earlier Fascism
among its justifications.
anti-copyright 1983 Left Bank Books, 92 Pike St., Seattle. WA 98101 Aided &
abetted by Terminal Words, c/o Anti-Authoritarian Studies, UC Berkeley,
ASUC, 300 Eshleman Hall, Berkeley. CA. 94720. Printed by David Brown on
small basement press Reprinted from Fifth Estate, issue number 310 (Vol. 17
No. 3). 4403 Second Ave., Detroit, Michigan 48201.
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