“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Saturday, August 25, 2001


I read a rather dismal piece by the anthropologist Robin Fox today, in the London Review of Books. Fox, who is the head of the Anthropology department at Rutgers, reviewed the biography of Colin Turnbull, the man who studied the Ik and the Mbuti Pygmies. Turnbull's book on the Ik, The Mountain People, became famous in the seventies. It supposedly showed a people who had lost any claim to humanity - a people reduced, by starvation, perhaps, to an appalling, Hobbesian state of man against man (und Gott gegen alles). This view of the Ik was dramatized by Peter Brooks and was well propagated, even though it was based on a faulty observation of the Ik by an openly prejudiced man who advocated a form of cultural genocide being practiced against these people.

Turnbull's earlier book about the Pygmies had stressed how good they were, in tacit comparison, especially, to the civilized Westerner. But the Mountain People, with its supposedly tough minded debunking of the Noble Savage myth, won the support of people like Robert Ardrey. In the seventies, along with the beginning of socio-biology, an anthropological school arose which claimed to be at once scientific and tough-minded about humankind. Lionel Tiger and Robin Fox (the Rutgers Team) were early and vocal adherents of this school, and of course Ardrey was a big fellow travelor. They introduce each others books, they write about each other - you know, the clique thing. Napoleon Chagnon is another member in not so good standing, now - but his book on the Yanomamo expressed the world view of this ostensibly scientifically minded group rather well in the seventies. These people held that- when you look at primitive human groups - this group had no problem with the word primitive - you'll find violence and power struggles. You won't find cooperation or altruism. And that is how humans are.

Now, one's immediate question is: why is the Hobbesian view more "scientific" than what Fox calls the Rousseauist view? That's a good question. In Fox's review of Turnbull, he contrasts the professional, scientific anthropologist with the subjectivism of the Margaret Mead's and Colin Turnbull's. He also sounds a note common to all the anthropologists of his tribe. It is that contemporary society is dominated by the view that human beings are innately good, and that this view is projected on primitive tribes to show that they have one or another outstanding virtue.

Let's take the later claim first. My response to it is: are Fox and his kind out of their minds? His evidence for the idea that we believe in the innate goodness of human beings seems to come from desultory discussions in the faculty lounge. Maybe Fox should take a look at concrete, even, dare I say it, objective social phenomena and ask himself - does this reflect a society which believes in the innate goodness of man? The first exhibit, of course, would be the over one trillion dollars spent in this country alone to amass a tidy 20 to 40 thousand or so nuclear missiles, and the popular perception that this amount of weaponry can blow up the world. He might want to look at TV news casts - especially local newscasts - and add up how much news is devoted to violence, and how much to, say, works of charity. He might want to check out the standard curriculum of the American high school. In my day, it leaned heavily to Lord of the Flies kind of books - emphasizing a point which is obvious to the average adolecent, that we are born under a bad sign. Far from having disappeared, the notion of original sin, in this culture, has ramified itself in dozens of ways. In fact, this makes anthropological sense - the disappearance of a cultural trope as common in this culture as original sin really would be a surprise.

Why would an anthropologist claim otherwise? The motif for this rhetorical move is resentment. It provides a story line in bad faith, casting such as Fox as embattled, or somehow minority, intellectuals - when in fact they are quite powerful, very networked intellectuals. It presents their opponents not only as wrong, but powerful - which of course creates the question characterstic of the politics of resentment -- how did the bad get to be powerful? There's a fascinating ritual here - a mimicry of victimage by people who are not, in any sense of the word, victims. But as this ritual plays out, increasingly any challenge to the Fox worldview is immediately interpreted as violence. In this way, a group which makes the claim to be scientific engages in a discourse that is anything but.

Because Fox's review isn't on the Net, I'm not going to play ping pong with it on this post. Instead, lets go to another example of the misuse of the word science which is generally in keeping with the school of Fox, Tiger, et al. There's a piece in the April Scientific American that is a perfect expression of the use of science, and the connotations evoked by that word, to disguise a merely ideological construct.

It was written by Michael Shermer, who labels himself as a Skeptic. If Shermer is a skeptic, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.

Shermer mounts a defense of Napoleon Chagnon against a book published by Patrick Tierney, Darkness in El Dorado. Tierney's book, briefly, attacks Chagnon for a number of reasons.
1. He accuses Chagnon of provoking violence by the means he used to get information.
2. He accuses Chagnon of being criminally careless in gathering together Yamomami Indians in 'festivals" that Chagnon filmed, knowing that some of the Indians were infected with measels.
3. He subjects Chagnon's facts and figures to a long and complicated critique. This part of the book extends for a good one hundred pages, and even includes a humorous table showing the dates when Chagnon promised to supply his data for various article he has written, and the date when that data was actually revealed. The latter date is -- it hasn't been revealed yet. A considerable portion of Chagnon's data set, even from the seventies, has still not been made available to other researchers.

Shermer begins his defense by his interpretation of Tierney's attack. He simplifies Tierney's points into one over-riding point: that Chagnon falsely labels the Yanomamo as Violent People. Here is Shermer's response.

' Humans are not easily pigeonholed into such clear-cut categories. The nature and intensity of our behavior depend on a host of biological, social and historical variables. Chagnon understands this. Tierney does not. Thus, Darkness in El Dorado fails not just because he didn't get the story straight (there are countless factual errors and distortions in the book) but because the book is predicated on a misunderstanding of how science works and of the difference between anecdotes (on which Tierney's book is based) and statistical trends (on which Chagnon's book depends). "

It is the last sentence I want to highlight here. Shermer's distinction is deeply meretricious, and, I think, syptomatic of how evolutionary anthropologists have distorted the word science.

To say that Tierney's book is based on anecdotes is rather funny, especially when contrasted with "statistical trends." What are Chagnon's statistical trends? Well, when you track them down, they are... anecdotes. Chagnon collected a number of stories about murders. There are no police among the Yamomami - his stories about murders depend on informants. As do his other stories about violent acts. From this base, he produced his statistics. Schermer must believe that quantifying over stories given one by informants somehow transforms the anecdote into science. That belief is, to say the least, not very skeptical.

In fact, the anecdote/science distinction is bogus, anyway. To report an occurence in a laboratory is, in one sense, to relate an anecdote. Hopefully, it is an anecdote that contains information that allows for the reconstruction of the occurence. Measurement alone is not science. I can count my fingers all day, but that doesn't make me a hand specialist. When Chagnon does quantify his research, they have a tendency to, let us say, exhibit grossly peculiar patterns. For instance, as Tierney shows, Chagnon's statistics on violence among the Yamomami show that violence among males INCREASES with age -- which, if true, would make the Yamomami a unique case. Or take the statistics on lineage based upon the blood samples taken by Chagnon and his partner, James Neel, in the sixties. According to Neel, these blood samples show a very low percentage of illegitimacy. That is, the husbands of Yamomami women usually turned out to be the real biological fathers of their children. Two things should be said about this. One is that the blood samples were taken before the technique of DNA fingerprinting was developed; so Neal and Chagnon necessarily had to use the much more unreliable blood type technique. But the other thing to say is -- what does legitimacy mean in a polyandrous society? Especially given Chagnon's own account of the prevelance of rape among the Yamomami, it is hard to know what to make of the evidence of the blood types. It is hard to know, in other words, without a supporting context of anecdotes - information from informers.

As for Tierney's countless factual errors - well, this is a stone that the friends of Napoleon Chagnon might not want to launch. His record is filled with matters of fact and conclusions that are violently disputed by others in the field, like Douglas Good and Brian Ferguson. His attitude towards evidence is bizarrely territorial - he seems to believe that information is about loyalty rather than objective fact. His tendency to accuse his opponents of Marxism doesn't help, either.

I once planned to do an extensive review of Tierney's book, but I never got around to it. A pity. One of these days, I will track the fallacies of evolutionary psychology and its allies (socio-biology and evolutionary anthropology) down, and shoot them. Bang bang bang - clay pigeons, all. In front of all of the readers of this site.

Friday, August 24, 2001


The Financial Times claims that Gustav Rau has the second largest private art collection in the world. I emphasize 'claims' - the largest art collectors are notoriously eccentric. It wouldn't surprise me if Rau's collection were surpassed by the odd Japanese billionaire.

In any case, the collection is, controversially, making a tour. The controversy is over whether Rau is of sound mind. Rau was a doctor in Zaire for many years. And he is also incredibly wealthy - which leaves a large gap between the lines. You don't become wealthy in Zaire without having had to do with Mobutu. But the article doesn't mention the tyrant's name, so one will just have to speculate. Anyway, the Swiss government claims an interest in the collection. Here's the explanation:

"The Rau Foundation might have remained anonymous had the doctor not retired in 1993 to Monaco, where he was later found disconsolately wandering the streets. A Lausanne court declared him mentally incapable, and, because under Swiss law the state has a share in the control of a foundation, the authorities took over the collection.

But Dr Rau, it seems, was not impaired at all. He made Unicef his heir, and haggled with the Swiss to allow highlights of his collection to tour Japan in 2000. He ignored the conditions - that the pictures return to Embrach - and instead sent them to Paris, from where they began a world tour that Rau hopes will include the US and Brazil, before ending up on permanent Unicef loan to the Musee de Luxembourg."
As I said in my last post, today is Plutarch day. Let's see - there is an incredibly large amount of info about Plutarch on the Net -- which is intriguing, considering that Plutarch was also a favorite of the printers when the printing press produced the book revolution in the Renaissance. The parallel might have been intentional - for instance, MIT's Perseus people surely had that in mind.

Let's start with Roger Kimbell's essay on Plutarch, for The New Criterion.

Unfortunately, Kimbell writes in an insufferable high table manner. I assume the name rings a bell - he's one of the warriors in that dreariest contemporary phenom, the Culture Wars - author of Tenured Radicals, etc. Poor Kimball - when he has some hair up his butt, he can get his rocks off, but without an opponent to caricature - writing in the belles-lettres format - he comes off sounding like he'd been suckled on bottle of port. What kills me is the High Table affectation combined with the middlebrow phrasing. Nabokov was always amused by that American combination of the Great Books and up-lift attitude - remember Lolita's mother, Charlotte Haze, with her Time-Life, Will and Ariel Durant culture? I don't share Nabokov's disdain for this kind of thing - hey, Will and Ariel Durant were socialists, and come out of the long Anglo tradition of Workingman's self-improvement groups (as Shaw pointed out, many a voluntary reading association provided a more up to date educational background than you could squeeze out of your average Oxford Don) - but it is funny to encounter such unconscious and pathetic bits of it in Kimball. Most interesting graf in Kimball's essay:

"I have always been surprised that more is not made of Alcibiades today. He seems the perfect contemporary hero: rich, handsome, brilliant, amoral; he had it all. He was even bisexual, virtually a prerequisite for appearing well-rounded these days. Plutarch notes that when it came to �temperance, continence, and probity,� Alcibiades must be judged �the least scrupulous and most entirely careless of human beings.� But he forgives him a lot, not least because �he was often of service to Athens, both as a soldier and a commander.�

In fact, Plutarch nearly always attempted to accentuate the positive."

Between the "He was even bisexual, virutally a prerequisite for appearing well-rounded these days" and the "accentuate the positive," you have the essence of the New Criterion stylebook - from the bizarre phobias dear to the conservative heart to the eyerolling cliches of fifties pop culture.

Kimball pairs Plutarch and Suetonius - the one dispensing moral admonition wrapped up in a life story, the other dishing dirt. Go to the Suetonius link for the intro to the Oxford Classics Magazine story about the guy.

Finally, here's a bit of Plutarch in North's translation, copied from Stoics Org - which I must warn you is a very badly put together site, taking forever to download. Still, Plutarch in English is North's translation from Amyot. It is, malheureusement, hard to find North - unfortunately the Plutarch we might find in the used book store is invariably the colorless Dryden/Clough translation. I remember picking up a copy of this when I was, what, fourteen, and falling asleep trying to read the Life of Theseus. Back in my adolescence, I was a great one for self-improvement. But I never made it through Theseus.

This comes from the comparison of two lawgivers - Lycurgus, ruler of Sparta, and Numa, ruler of Rome.

"But the LACONIAN, keeping his wife in his house, and the mariage remaining whole and unbroken, might let out his wife to any man that would require her to have children by her: naye furthermore, many (as we have told you before) did them selves intreat men, by whom they thought to have a trimme broode of children, and layed them with their wives. What difference, I praye you was betwene these two customes? saving that the custome of the LACONIANS shewed, that the husbands were nothing angrie, nor grieved with their wives for those things, which for sorrowe and jealousie doth rent the hartes of most maried men in the world. And that of the ROMAINES was a simplicitie somwhat more shamefast, which to cover it, was shadowed yet with the cloke of matrimonie, and contract of mariage: confessing that to use wife and children by halfes together, was a thing most intolerable for him. Furthermore, the keeping of maidens to be maried by Numaes order, was much straighter & more honorable for womanhed: and Lycurgus order having to much scope and libertie, gave Poets occasion to speake, and to geve them surnames not very honest. As Ibycus called them Phanomeridas: to saye, thighe showers: and Andromanes: to saye manhood. And Euripides sayeth also of them. Good nut broune girles which left, their fathers house at large and sought for young mens companie, & tooke their ware in charge: And shewed their thighes all bare, the taylour did them wrong, on eche side open were their cotes, the slytts were all to long. And in deede to saye truely, the sides of their petticotes were not sowed beneath: so that as they went, they shewed their thighes naked and bare. The which Sophocles doth easely declare by these verses: The songe which you shall singe, shalbe the sonnet sayde, by Hermione lusty lasse, that strong and sturdy mayde: Which trust her petticote, about her midle shorte, and set to shewe her naked hippes, in francke & frendly sorte. And therefore it is sayed, the LACON Wives were bolde, manly, and stowte against their husbands, namely the first. For they were wholy mistresses in the house, and abroade: yea they had law on their side also, to utter their mindes franckly concerning the chiefest matters..."

Thursday, August 23, 2001


It is Plutarch day tomorrow. My Mom used to sing me the song
Plutarch day comes once a year
and on that day be of good cheer

and then we would all gather round and listen to her read the Comparison of Pompey with Agesilaus. Brings a tear to my eye, still. So I thought I'd point you all to this translation of one of his essays. It is in French though.

So okay, first in the French, continuing the discussion of the parts of the soul: Pythagore, Platon, � le prendre � la plus g�n�rale division,
tiennent que l'�me a deux parties, c'est � savoir la partie
raisonnable, & la partie irraisonnable: mais � y regarder de plus
pr�s & plus exactement, elle a trois parties, car ils sous-
divisent la partie irraisonnable en la concupiscence & en
l'irrascible. Les Sto�ques disent, qu'elle est compos�e de huit
parties, cinq des sens naturels, le sixi�me, la voix, le septi�me,
la semence, le huiti�me, l'entendement, par lesquelles toutes les
autres sont command�es par ces propres instruments; ni plus ni
moins que le poulpe se sert de ses branches. D�mocrite & Epicure
mettent deux parties en l'�me, la partie raisonna [297] ble log�e
en l'estomac, & l'autre �parse par tout le corps: D�mocrite met,
que toutes choses sont participantes de quelque sorte d'�me,
jusques aux corps morts, d'autant que manifestement ils sont
encore participants de quelque chaleur, & de quelque sentiment, la
plus part en �tant j� (17) �vent�e.

To take the typical opinions of Pythagoras and Plato, the soul has two parts: the reasonable and the unreasonable. But if you scrutinize a bit more closely, you'll see there is a third part, for they subdivide the irrational into concupiscence and irritability. But the Stoics say it has eight parts, the five natural senses, and the sixth being the voice, the seventh seed, and the eighth the understanding, by which all the others are governed, more or less in the same way the octupus uses its tentacles. Democritus and Epicurus have the bicameral soul too, with reason lodged in the stomach, and the irrational part distributed throughout the body. Democritus posits the concept that the soul participates in everything, even dead bodies, insofar as this participation is characterized by warmth and a miniscule quantity of sentiment, mostly in moving air.

That last clause is a killer - I think it means, in exuding heat and stirring up air - which I guess refers to the smell of corruption. And hey, you have to love the Stoics, they were always coming up with the craziest theories just to bug the Platonists.

I've dealt with some heavy stuff this week - but this is the most startling news of all!==> brainsluice ==> extra ==> nasa fakes moon landing!. I suspected those crafty NASA people of faking that moonlanding, but these pics are so overwhelmingly conclusive -- and also, the muppets crawling out of the craters are sorta cute. ... Now if only someone would get to the bottom of the notorious SURVIVOR scam. Outback of Australia, they said -- sure. Those Survivor folks were marooned on a lot behind a Shoney's in Hackensack, New Jersey. Far from dining on grubs and goat, they called out for pizza during the breaks. How do I know this? Secret sources that I can only divulge to the National Enquirer for a certain to be determined amount of up front incentive.
It is time to talk about... Argentina.
That's right. The country that, in the early 90s, made foreign investors cream in their boxers by adopting those golden Chile policies - free markets for everybody was the slogan. Tie the peso to the dollar, slay that inflation, and what do you have? An investors dream.
Luckily, when an investors dream turns into a nightmare, you always have the government.
So, the IMF loaned de la Rua's government its money. Is this good news?
The Times Analysis was characteristic of the Times. Here's a move that is mainly going to benefit those speculators that have loans to Argentina. And those investors, those emerging market managers, are they headquartered in Buenos Aires? Is the pope a Mormon? Of course they aren't. Look for their offices in shady Westport, Connecticut, or in the LatinAmerican sections of the Morgan bank, and Citicorp. But no - in keeping with the fiction that foreign policy in the US responds strictly to our ideological need for promoting democracy and free-trade (valued by the Times as much as democracy, as any avid reader of that rag knows), the key graf here reads:

"The decision underscored that even at times when the United States holds most of the cards � it is the largest single shareholder in the I.M.F. and is generally thought to have veto power over new loans � it finds it difficult to deny an urgent request from an ally. It also cannot simply walk away from the interventionist financial diplomacy of the Clinton administration. That is, at least in part, because after a decade of fast-paced economic integration it is hard to separate financial rescues from other foreign policy priorities the Bush administration puts higher on its agenda, like free trade, open stock and bond markets, even democracy."

Although it makes me a little ill to agree with Paul O'Neill, our secretary of ALCOA, I mean the Treasury, he was right that the IMF bailout makes little sense. First of all, what advantage accrues to the average Argentinian in "tightening his belt?" O'Neill, in interviews last week, indulged in the typical Yankee luxury of dissing aspects of the Argentine economy that are even worse in the USA - for instance, that Argentina is a poor exporter. Well, its trade balance compares favorably with this country's, as O'Neill knows. The US can afford to run twenty years of trade deficits because it has a uniquely large internal market - most countries can't do that. But the way to wealth, as the crash of 98 and as the petit mal of 2001 is showing, is not to jump up an export economy and ignore the internal market - in fact, that is crazy. Unfortunately, governments that heavily borrow to implant infrastructure for creating exportable goods eventually bleed the internal market by adversely affecting their native wage levels - and so far, the theory that one can bootstrap out of this as minimally compensated workers begin to accumulate enough capital to stimulate a viable consumer sector - as in the US - just hasn't worked.
For a scary whiff of the rhetoric that is emanating from certain circles in Buenos Aires right now, here's a graf from an op ed piece in the Buenos Aires Herald.

"For the last year or so, Argentina has been edging nearer to the queue that is awaiting its turn outside the knacker�s yard where �failed states� are broken up. Some suspect it will soon barge its way towards the front. Last week, a former president of Uruguay, no less, titillated Spaniards with an article in El Pa�s in which he posed the question: Does Argentina still exist or has it already left us? Being an optimist at heart, towards the end of his article Julio Mar�a Sanguinetti did find some reasons for hope of which the most encouraging was the allegedly splendid quality of Argentina�s �human capital.�
The trouble is, people have been going on for decades about just how exceptionally bright they think Argentines are, but this belief � which, as might be expected is popular among Argentine intellectuals � has surely contributed a great deal to the collective debacle by making too many of them assume that the country�s plight is none of their doing or that, seeing they are so clever, they will find it easy to wriggle out of any hole they may have fallen into while their eyes were fixed on the stars. In any case, even were it to be proved beyond doubt that Argentina really is home to an astonishing number of �bermenschen that would be no consolation at all: the Titanic would have gone down just as fast if every single passenger had been a PhD."

Wednesday, August 22, 2001


I'm sunshine this week, ladies and germs. First I harangue you about Hiroshima, and now here's a link to a discussion of Rwanda:
Conversation with Philip Gourevitch, p. 4 of 7
I'm reading Gourevitch's book for a job I'm doing, and it is impressive. Here's a quote from the Conversation --
"People like to go to the Holocaust Museum and say, that's who I relate to, the guy who did right. Either they relate somehow to the victim and feel bad about themselves and sorry for themselves, or they relate to the good guy. Very few go in there and say, oh yeah I probably would have been just like an ordinary conformist Nazi murderer, right? But probably the great majority of people who go through that museum would have been, because that's what the great majority of people in Europe were. They were either bystanders, collaborators, or in some other way morally reprehensible positions which are all too understandable. But there they are. But no, this museum allows you to fantasize that you're sort of morally excellent. And reality doesn't allow that fantasy much room, sadly."

The flip side is that people refrain from violence out of conformism too. There have been times that I wonder why I've never murdered, and certainly it is amazing that I know no murderers. Or I think I know none. The first human quarrel in the Bible ends with murder - Cain killing Abel. It must have made sense to Cain, since he had no example of what you do in a quarrel - how you keep yourself from hurting someone you don't like. The first thing that occurs to him is end his brother - just as he ended other irritants: swatted mosquitos, squashed spiders. It must have seemed so logical. Of course, the story goes on to gift Cain with the kind of foresight he could only have if he'd been living among a group of people for some time - remember, he cries out that the mark God puts upon him will make him a target for other people. Maybe the act of murdering Abel gave him second sight, and he saw both how easy it was and how futile it was. The recoil from murdering is in our system as much as the lust to do it.


Alan suggested I visit this site:The Simple Living Newsletter - The Simple Living Network I like what these people stand for - better living through less stuff - but they lack a certain --- punchiness. This opinion might say more about me than the Simple Living guys, however - lately I've just felt aggressive. Hmm, time for a vacation, I think.

Tuesday, August 21, 2001


In last night�s post, I bastinadoed the defenders of the Hiroshima bombing � many of whom came out in force in 1995, like ancient ghouls, to censor the Smithsonian�s exhibit on the Enola Gay.

Let�s start out tonight by conceding one thing to that crowd. The revisionist historians � led by Gar Alperowitz - who so expertly mapped the evasions and maneuvers of war policy in the Truman administration messed up big time by concluding, in one of the often sited proto-scripts to introduce the exhibit's theme, that �for most Japanese, it was a war to defend their unique culture against Western imperialism.� That is an outrageously stupid claim � as well claim that German Einsatzgruppen in the Ukraine were trying to spread the sweetness and light of high German culture. No, the Japanese empire, from around 1932 to 1945, were one of the century�s great criminal regimes. From the looting of Manchuria to the rape of Nanking to the horrific �defense� of Manila, in 1945, when Japanese soldiers slaughtered up to 100, 000 Filipinos, the point of the empire was to enrich a clique consisting of the upper echelon military, financial and industrial leaders, as well as the Imperial Court. The project was sustained by a virulent racist ideology, and its overt aim was to enslave other Asian countries. To say that this was about Japan�s �unique culture� is a very sick joke, indeed. What the Communists called the fascists in the 30s � gansters � was especially relevant to the Japanese Imperium.

Now, to understand MY position on the bomb � and hey, isn�t that what this post is all about � we need some entering vector. Those hapless historians trying to set the bombing record straight are as good as any other... Why would they display such amnesia about events that happened a mere fifty years ago? Why has the criminality of the Japanese military command disappeared from the public consciousness?

One answer is that activist historians, motivated to find out the truth about the bomb, are operating in the circuit of the famous Binary Os � if bombing Hiroshima was evil, than the people of Hiroshima were, well, good. And by extension the Japanese. This is an understandable extrapolation. After the war, good liberals were ashamed of the incarceration of Japanese-Americans, and the racist rhetoric that was unleashed to describe the war in the Pacific theater and to motivate military performance.

However, that explanation doesn�t satisfy me. I have a more Foucauldian tale to unfold.

Which leads to a brief excursus about Foucault.
I was having lunch last year with an intelligent English Prof and he casually said, a propos of I believe it was Delillo � well, it is like Foucault says, power is total, right?

I gritted my teeth. But I didn�t say anything, because really, this is the most common American interpretation of Foucault � he was the man who said power is �totalizing�. And in the system of total power - raise your hands if you've heard this, y'all - resistance is always already coopted, infected with the codes and cyphers of hegemonic power � as though some virus out of a J.C. Ballard novel had crawled inside our brains.

If this was what Foucault had meant, we could flush him down the toilet. That�s a piss-poor view of history. But of course it isn�t what he said.

Foucault was concerned about both the form of coercion and its content. It is important to separate those two domains. A form of coercion can be state power, it can be a sales pitch, it can be a manifesto. A content, on the other hand, is some enonciation - it can be a bombing raid, a vacuum cleaner, or a cubist painting. It can be an idea. To understand his theory about these things, compare the liberal and the Marxist view of coercion and content.

For the liberal, the content determines the form of coercion � or as the liberal would have it, the form of legitimate governance. For the Marxist, the picture is different: famously, the forms of production determine the modes of culture - which translates into the forms of coercion determining content. What Foucault says is something a little weirder. For him, content is semi-autonomous from the form of coercion. This might seem like a straddle, and it does make the question of the provenance of content important. But the important thing for us to emphasize is that, given this Foucauldian perspective, a content - let's say the bombing of a city - can co-exist with another content - say a pledge not to kill civilians - within the same coercive form. Given one content alone, you cannot read into it where it fits in a form of coercion, or to which form it belongs. The same content can exist in two overlapping forms of coercion.

If we compare the post-war histories of Japan and Germany, we see an interesting thing. Japan was the only Axis power to retain its pre-defeat leader, Hirohito. Japan became, basically, a one-party democracy, with the personnel and the money for the Liberal party flowing from circles that formerly supported the militarists. In Japan, the amnesia about Japanese aggression is so widespread that the government can even get away with approving school textbooks that attribute the Japanese incursion into China to Chinese aggression. The current governor of Tokyo has publicly denied the rape of Nanking happened. Imagine the outcry if the mayor of Berlin, say, denied that Auschwitz happened.

In Germany, on the other hand, a normal, continental two-party parliamentary system has become rooted in the political culture. Germany paid reparations to the victims of its aggression up until the nineties � Japan stopped these payments in 1951. Germany is periodically embroiled in discussions of war guilt. The question is still a major theme in German intellectual culture.

Why did the outcomes of two occupations turn out so differently? A Foucauldian answer would go something like this: in the German case, there were constituencies of memory that prevented the historic experience of Nazi rule and occupation from being forgotten. At first, these constituencies were other Western nations � the French, British, Dutch, etc. The second wave was Jewish. Constituencies of memory are formed around preserving historic experiences that are often, ironically, not remembered by the particular individuals in the set. Those particular individuals being unavailable � i.e. dead � are given a post-mortem existence by groups that gradually gain their identity from this act of transferred memory.

In the Japanese case, however, the formation of constituencies of memory underwent a different course. After the fall of Peking in 1949, the American interest, which was a dominant consideration in such Asian client states as Taiwan and South Korea, was not to awake the memory of recent Japanese aggression. It was, rather, to normalize Japan � incorporate it into the American military and industrial sphere of influence. To use the vocabulary I introduced above, the form of coercion serving the American interest became anti-racist. And to that interest was sacrificed the memory of what happened in Asia in the 30s and 40s.

This is pertinent to the bomb because we see, in the history of American involvement with Japan from 1945 to 1951, a remarkable shift. The same agents who, during the war, supported a racist agenda, now promoted a pro-Japanese agenda. Why?

Another way of putting this is: why, during the debate between the Hiroshima revisionists and the defenders of the bombing, was it simply assumed that the surrender of Japan brought to a close that particular historic epoch?

Here�s what I am going to briefly contend: that the U.S., after V-J day, was in the same condition as the hapless fisherman in the Grimm�s tale who wished for the wrong thing. The U.S., in its occupation of Japan, tacitly renegotiated the Potsdam declaration on its own. That declaration, insofar as it concerns Japan, states:

"There must be eliminated for all time the authority and influence of those who have deceived and misled the people of Japan into embarking on world conquest, for we insist that a new order of peace security and justice will be impossible until irresponsible militarism is driven from the world."

IN other words, the official U.S. position, before the bomb, was that Japan had to be de-militarized, and the elite that lead the Japanese during the war had to be forever kept from power. After the war, what happened? The U.S. tried to re-militarize Japan. After the first wave of war crime trials, it was MacArthur's game to quietly re-instate sections of the old elite. Why? Because U.S. interests shifted in Asia, especially after Mao overthrew the nationalist government in China.

Was this shift in interest totally unexpected? No. In 1945, Truman, Stimson, and the U.S. military had a very strong sense that competition in Asia would come from Stalin � although of course they misjudged the strength of Mao. In this sense, the motivation for dropping the bomb was partly to impress the Russians. That was not the whole motivation, however � surely one should factor in the casualty rates being taken by the troops in the Pacific Theater. But those American casualties were supposedly dying for a sort of New Deal foreign policy, one that found expression in the Potsdam accords. Certainly most of them never gave a thought to the Potsdam pronouncement, but they did have a vague sense that they were fighting for democracy, and what that meant. And the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were supposedly sacrificed for the same goal. Since the Truman administration even at the time was envisioning large-scale changes in the New Deal foreign policy, the refusal to negotiate the Japanese surrender was an act of sheer hypocrisy. On the Japanese side, Hirohito�s attempt to save his skin by putting up conditions for a surrender he knew was inevitable was also an act of� well, what shall we call it? Self-interestedness in the highest degree? The blame for the bombing can�t rest on Truman�s shoulders alone - both of these leaders are, as Nobile says, war criminals. Even in the terms of the war itself, even if we expand the legitimate targets of war to include, as Fussell wants to, civilians, there�s only one conclusion about the dead of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: they died in vain.
Hey - I've always been anti-work - or workin for the steal, if that is how that line from the Public Enemy song goes - but an organization that takes up where the situationalists left off - an anti-economy league, in short - was a pipe-dream. Others couldn't possibly feel the way I do, right? No, wrong! Check out the Committee for Full Enjoyment, and the anti-economy manifesto: The Anti-Economy League

Monday, August 20, 2001


In 1995, for the 50th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing, the Smithsonian planned on a special exhibit on the Enola Gay, using information that had been gradually released since the war. An ad hoc coalition of the American Legion and a lobbying front group supported by defense contractors mounted a successful resistance to the exhibit, portraying it as some kind of weird propaganda coup for communism and the Imperial Japanese Army Headquarters. This line was eagerly taken up by the Washington Post, the tone being set by a Charles Krauthammer column.

The controversy replayed a battle that has been going on a long time. The locus classicus of the defense of the bombing is a piece by Paul Fussell entitled, "Thank God for the Atom Bomb". Sorry, guys, no copy of this is available on-line. I'm going to reduce it to its arguments, although the piece really relies on its rhetoric. Still, the Fussell's three arguments for the bomb are common to his camp. I�ve seen them repeated, with the same rhetorical flourish of contempt for those who don't buy it, among most of the Atom Bombadiers:

1. The bombing can�t be judged by non-combatants.
2. Since war is an unconditional evil, there are no morally justified constraints on how war is fought � the only moral course is to end war as quickly as possible.
3. The bombing prevented an invasion of Japan.

Fussell spends quite a bit of time in his essay explaining the special, mystic experience of the non-combatant. Although Fussell doesn�t quite explain it � mysticism is always a little too deep for mere language � his point seems to be that the experience of seeing one�s comrade�s shot up produces a sort of hive consciousness among GIs. They meld into a collective mind, wishing for � well, the destruction of the enemy by whatever means necessary. The justification for this is irrelevant. Like German youth groups in the 20s, who claimed that non-Aryans just didn�t get the Teutonic mythos and the groovy blut-und-erdness of it all, Fussell claims that our boys in the Pacific Theater wished for Hiroshima, and so we had to give it to them. An early birthday present for the boys. Fired with this knowledge, Fussell can dismiss critics of the bombing, like John Kenneth Galbraith, as desk jockeys at best, second guessing (or is it stabbing in the back?) our best sons.

Even Fussell knows this is argument, or anti-argument (since it premises lie outside of rationality), is insufficient. Combatants, after all, don�t direct or organize combat � they perform it. It was the Truman administration that ordered the bombing, after a bunch of non-combatant ephebes in Los Alamos built the damn explosive. But Fussell goes for the Fuhrer principle � Truman, you see, had an intuitive connection to the grunts. He�d been a soldier himself. Like, in fact, that other soldier/leader, Adolf Hitler. In fact, Hitler compares favorably to Truman and truly aces Roosevelt. He had been more of a soldier than either � after all, he was gassed in WWI.

Well, hmm. Forgive me, but any argument that ends up supporting Hitler�s leadership during the war makes me worry. Besides, when the chips are down, the intuitive business fades away - leaders order their men into life threatening situations while remaining, themselves, out of life-threatening situations. The man who ordered Stalingrad held to the last soldier, and who planned, late in the war, to bring the army, hive spirit and all, down with him, was surely not connected to the Soldaten Wunsch-pool, and neither was Truman. In fact, by Truman's account, during most of the war he was out of the loop. The argument is absurd and insulting to the soldiers it is ostensibly defending, who werre more varied and intelligent than Fussell gives them credit for. Furthermore, it allows Fussell to commit a little intellectual blackguardism vis � a � vis the critics of Hiroshima � with the non-subtle implication that these guys, and of course women here are excluded from the discussion utterly, are, let�s say, limp wrested.

That�s to be expected from the fascism of this kind of argument/non-argument. That it goes over so easily in the Beltway press is to be expected, too - those guys always love a bully.

2. The second argument actually has a cognitive content, so I am not debasing my readers by presenting it.
George Orwell might have been the first to remark on a strange conjunction in World War II. English pacifists, who started out simply opposing all combat, slowly turned to pro-fascism as the war continued. This represents a fact in history of the spirit, as Hegel would say � the synthesis of pacifist assumptions with warmongering conclusions.
The pacifist assumption � which generates an enormous amount of unthinking agreement � is that killing for a political program is unconditionally wrong. Fussell, who has represented this view elsewhere, quotes General Sherman�s war is hell remark to give us a feel for this view.

The warmonger takes the pacifist interpretation one step further: since war is unconditionally bad, if a war occurs, the only good thing is to end it as quickly as possible, using all means necessary.

The first thing to say about this is � I see no reason to cede the pacifist point. I can think of killing for a political program that was good, and killing that was bad. To put it bluntly: Hooray for the shooting of Czar Alexander, the beheading of Louis XVI, and the shooting of as many Confederates as possible at Shiloh.

If, however, violence isn�t unconditionally wrong in these circumstances � which was really the attitude of the governments that, after all, fought the wars - it makes sense to talk of constraints on violence. It makes sense, in other words, to dispute with Sherman. Sherman�s remark is often quoted because he made it in the context of a war which freed the slaves, a result no sane person can dispute. The historical codicil to the Sherman doctrine was the war against the Plains and Southwestern Indians � funny how the Fussells of the world forget this. In the Indian wars, it was typical for Americans to induce Indian chiefs (the apache chief Mangas Coloradas and Sitting Bull are good examples) to parlay under a flag of truce, and then murder them. If war is hell, of course, who cares � it brought these conflicts to a quicker end. But if there are just wars and revolutions, then we are right to feel this kind of death is repulsive and thoroughly dishonors the murderers. We are right to say prisoners shouldn�t be shot, and the safety of civilians should, to the greatest extent possible, be preserved.

There�s a fake history that goes along with the claim that the era of total war was inevitable. It is that war is technologically determined. Once you have the plane, you inevitably have the bombing of cities.
This isn�t true. Even a cursory glance at the history of warfare shows no necessary connection between the level of technology and the level of allowed ferocity. If you compare the Europe�s continental wars in the 19th century with those of the 17th century, you�ll find the 17th century�s were much more total, much more wrenching to the civilian population. Yet the technology employed by, say, the Prussians against the French in 1870, is much more sophisticated than the arquebuses of Gustave Adolphus� soldiery.

3. The defenders of the Hiroshima bombing often talk about the casualties suffered by American troops in the last months of the war, as if these rates lead to a self-evident inference. The casualty rate was astonishing. But normally, this is not a signal that you attack civilians. It means that you continue, as Grant did in Virginia, taking the count in order to achieve a complete victory �or you negotiate. In other words, you reconsider the option of unconditional surrender. It doesn�t mean you firebomb Tokyo and wipe out two largely civilian cities with atom weapons.

Here I want to make a case that is, I believe, unique. The partisans on both sides agree that the surrender of Japan was wholly on the terms laid out by the Potsdam agreement. In other words, the Imperial Japanese government unconditionally surrendered. Now, formally, this is true. But I�d like to argue that in reality, not only was the Potsdam agreement violated in the course of Japanese reconstruction, but that it was in the American interest to violate it. In other words, the unconditional surrender for which so many fought, and for which 75 to 100 thousand died in Hiroshima, was a cynical sham.

I�ll make this argument tomorrow.

Sunday, August 19, 2001


A day that will live in infamy passed without it being properly anathematized by your humble spirit this month. No, it was not the day the movie Pearl Harbor outgrossed the cost of the real thing, but August 6. The 56th anniversary of Hiroshima.

When I was a kid in 1968 or 9, my best friend was Mike Sears. It was Mike Sears who brought the John Hershey book, Hiroshima, to class. And I read a little bit of it. And it scared the living shit out of me. I had nightmares about it � oddly erotic nightmares. Since the bomb�s effect was to burn the clothing into the skin or off the skin, Hershey�s account shows a dazed city of survivors wandering about naked, a landscape of burned and flowing skin, and this impressed my prurient sixth grade subconscious. The first nightmare I had about Hiroshima, I woke and discovered that I wet myself � and then I discovered that this fluid was stickier than urine.

For a long time, Hiroshima was too frightening for me to read about � and I am still scared of looking at photos of Hiroshima victims.

Well, this week I am going to write a little bit about the justification for bombing Hiroshima � what Philip Nobile calls Hiroshima holocaust denial.
I've always thought Christopher Hitchens was right about Mother Theresa - a nasty ghoul with an uncanny knack for palling around with the most unsavory rich people in the world, when she wasn't forcibly converting the dying, for breadcrumbs and a bed, to an ersatz belief in Jesus Christ . My favorite heroine from India is the anti- Mother Theresa - Phoolan Devi, the bandit queen, who kicked ass - and knocked off 22 men, supposedly - after being given the usual gangbang treatment in rural India. No passive resistance for this girl. Bought, raped, misused, she was one lowcaste virgin/whore who danced her own return of the repressed on the heads of a typical village ruling clique. She even got elected to Parliment - hell, if she had only been running for the Senate in New York State, we would have had a real feminist in American politics, even. Anyway, she was murdered. Here's a depressing story about the wholse sordid affair. Fierce Struggle for Spoils of Slain 'Bandit Queen'