Thirty-One Antiwar Movies

Below is a list of 31 antiwar movies that made deep impressions on me. These movies are built around the idea that war has no redeeming value whatsoever — except perhaps for instances of defending one’s own person from deadly assault, as in the incredible 1956 movie Kanal, about the Warsaw Uprising in 1944.

Some of these movies are clearcut 100% antiwar, others are more about stories of perseverance through war’s injustices, and many are combinations of these two themes.

Because there is such variation in tone between them, some having much comedy while others being entirely dour, some attempting complete realism while others including poetic and surrealistic elements, I do not see any value in ranking them from “greatest” on down to “least great.” I think their value in transmitting the antiwar sentiment to a viewer and reinforcing it is by seeing them all as a group, and viewing each with thoughtful attention. Each is a facet of that diamond of realization I call antiwar consciousness.

All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
La Grande Illusion (1937)
The Dawn Patrol (1938)
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
Kanal (1956)
The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
Paths of Glory (1957)
On the Beach (1959)
Hiroshima mon amour (1959)
The Americanization of Emily (1964)
Dr. Strangelove (1964)
King of Hearts (1966)
Oh! What a Lovely War (1969)
The Sorrow and the Pity (Vichy collaboration, 1969)
Catch-22 (1970)
M*A*S*H (1970)
Johnny Got His Gun (1971)
Slaughterhouse-Five (1972)
Winter Soldier (US Vietnam veterans testify, 1972)
Hearts and Minds (US Vietnam veterans testify, 1974)
Apocalypse Now (1979)
The Day After (1983)
Come and See (1985)
Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Apocalypse Now Redux (1979/2001)
Fog of War (Robert McNamara testifies, 2003)
Sir! No Sir! (US Vietnam veterans testify, 2005)
The Railway Man (2013)
The Unknown Known (Donald Rumsfeld testifies, 2013)
They Shall Not Grow Old (WWI veterans testify, 2018)
Final Account (old Nazis testify, 2020)

A much larger list of 75 antiwar films is published by wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_anti-war_films). Some of the movies on that list are in my view primarily good justifications of defensive war, as with Kanal (1956) and The Battle of Algiers (1966), and yes I agree that such good justifications for desperate defensive wars can also awaken one to an overall antiwar realization. But, my list of 31 is more “concentrated,” based on my views of the antiwar genre, and I also realize that I could easily expand my list with equally worthy antiwar movies I did not include.

For me, antiwar movies are focused on showing the harm, the physical and psychological damage and stupidity of war, and are intent to deglorify war and turn the audience against blind patriotism and war-making as solutions to political and international conflicts.

Antiwar movies can have elements of adventure, heroism, “exciting’ violence, stories of personal endurance and self-sacrifice, and comedy, but they cannot be conventionally patriotic, and the center-of-gravity of these films must be fully and overtly the antiwar intent.

All war films use war in an effort to make commercially successful mass entertainment, but true antiwar films are intentionally using film-making art to motivate a mass audience to a deeply antiwar, anti-violence, pro-peace, pro-diplomacy attitude, and to divorce patriotism from unthinking jingoism, belligerence, violence and obedience to militarism.

One epic antiwar film that is missing and I wished existed would be about the Indian Wars in the American West, and in particular about the Great Sioux War of 1876-1877 that includes Custer’s Last Stand, entirely from the American Indian point of view.

There have been many, many Indian wars across North America instigated by European colonizers, immigrants and their descendants since 1492, and all those wars were lost by the Native Americans. In the American popular imagination Custer’s Last Stand in 1876 was the greatest of the temporary victories won by American Indians in their fight against the settler-colonialism warring against them.

Most American Western movies featuring conflicts with the American Indians were produced by descendants of the victors of the Indian Wars, and are thus celebrations of white supremacy colonialism, or at best sentimental regrets about the necessary inevitability of industrial civilization’s “progress.”

I was motivated to produce this antiwar movies list and commentary by the thought that it is always important to keep reminding today’s comfortable or prosperous or privileged or indolent or ignorant denizens of capitalist paradises (particularly in the United States, where 7 December 2021 will be commemorated as the 80th anniversary of the its entry into WWII) that sapping out the lifeblood of a national economy to feed a leeching and bloated military, and the technologically amplified bigotry called militarism, is chronically suicidal for the host society. Today we are all witnessing Planet Earth’s reaction — climate change — to our self-induced and suicidal civilizational affliction.

Poets and dreamers see the antiwar attitude as a first step in arriving at a species-wide sense of family for homo sapiens, and then such a grand consensus transforming all our lives for the better, on into future generations. “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”

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World War Infinity

Albert Einstein is often quoted as having said:

“I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”

Stan Goff writes:

“There won’t be a WW4.”

I say:

It’s a continuum of war, not a sequence of episodes of war. It’s a “streaming” of war, not a stasis of “peace” episodically punctuated by temporary eruptions of violence, called “wars.”

Numbering the “wars” simply means the intervals of “peace” are just well disguised wars by the clever perpetrators, and/or the antiwar and historian observers doing the numbering have failed to properly pay attention to what is actually happening during those “peaceful” intervals.

“Full spectrum dominance,” the military doctrine of the United States, means everything — from infant formula to nuclear bombs, and everything else in between — is “weaponized” all * the * time. It is all always WW∞.

The ‘end’ isn’t a point in the future, it is the streaming ‘now’ of thoughts passing through a cloud of amnesia to be transformed into bullets — both real and metaphorical, but all truly deadly — and which streaming presents itself, among other manifestations, as global warming climate change.

It is WW∞. We are WW∞. And Earth is fighting back, and will win.

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Remembering 4 Nuns Martyred in El Salvador

“Today marks the 41st Anniversary [of 2 December 1980] of the Martyrdom in El Salvador of Maryknoll Sisters Ita Ford and Maura Clarke, Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel and Lay Missioner Jean Donovan. We also remember the 70,000 Salvadorans who lost their lives during the nation’s civil war.”
https://www.facebook.com/NetworkLobby/photos/a.166039868572/10159950595368573

Stan Goff, who was a Special Forces soldier for the U.S., alerted me [MG,Jr.] to this sad anniversary (weblink above), and reports:

I have a very creepy story from when I was in El Salvador (1985): we found their bloodied clothes bagged in our tool shed (the house was leased by the US Embassy). The US Embassy then was staffed mostly by people who heartily approved of their killing. God bless America.

The Embassy apparently didn’t know what to do with the clothes, so they just shunted them off to the TDY house, where someone stuffed the garbage bags in the shed. The shed sprung a leak and the stuff got damp and mildewy and began to stink. That’s how we found it. The groundskeeper telling us, “El cobertizo heule mal.”

I won’t even repeat the horrifyingly callous, hateful, and misogynistic remarks that I heard from the Embassy folk . . . about the women who were killed, and admiration for those who did it. But then we were in the Reagan era. I also saw Felix Rodriguez directing chopper traffic at Ilopango Airport while he chatted with the Ambassador (presumably about what they were shipping, weapons to Nicaragua and dope [cocaine] to the US).

The Zona Rosa massacre, the kidnapping of Inez Duarte . . . shit was kicking off then. Corr, the Ambassador, was drunk most of the time I saw him (also true of the Ambassador in Guatemala a couple of years earlier), and everyone just acted like the whole country was their own little macho playground. One of my political turns happened there . . . a little one but important later. I figured out that it was all about money.

Manuel García, Jr. responds:

The whole thing made me sick, sad and angry. By then (1980) I was ready for a full on communist revolution — and still am. But, I had a budding family to support, no power, no wealth, only a fresh Ph.D. diploma, so I took Reagan’s blood money and tested nuclear bombs for the paychecks. I wanted to help develop alternative energy: fusion, solar, “green”, conservation/energy efficiency, whatever, but there was no money in it and no public desire for it: then or even now, really. My retirement pension comes from that: nuclear bombs. I was very good at it.

I’m sorry you, Stan Goff, had to witness such cruelty, and very glad you survived to be the man you are.

This country peaked in 1977 (its year of greatest potential was 1968), and started plunging in 1978, abysmally so after November 1980. Nixon was the first Confederate president of the U.S.A. (1968-1974), and with Reagan on (1981->), the Confederacy took over all branches of the U.S.G.

Climate change will eventually defeat our Neoliberal Confederacy (white supremacy capitalism), but unfortunately, like Moby-Dick to the Pequod, climate change will see all hands (even Ishmael), regardless of their culpability or innocence, swallowed into oblivion to achieve a terminal justice.

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Thanksgiving

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Thanksgiving

I am glad to have survived to this point
So I could see this beautiful day
Of bright cool sunshine
Filtering through the trees of my canyon
In this November after the first rains
After the yearlong drought
With the eucalyptus leaves and pine needles
Speckled with gems of light, and
The fresh grasses exuded from the grateful earth
Ablaze with translucent green radiance
From the low winter angle of the rays
Combing through the quiet of life’s renewal
As gentle eddies of breeze caress the fronds
And carry my drifting memories
Back to the afterglow of my distant glories
Freed now of the agonies they required,
And hope that my sins cast out of memory
Have long been forgotten by the aggrieved,
As the freshness of this day has forgotten
The uncountable agonies across eons
It has renewed itself beyond into new gratitude
With its unbounded possibilities
For the simple pure joy of just being.

25 November 2021

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On the Rittenhouse Acquittal

American criminal law trials are decided in favor of whichever of the competing attorneys spins the most compelling story that resonates with the consensus bigotry of the jury. Now that Kyle Rittenhouse has been acquitted of three shootings with two murders of unarmed Black Lives Matter protestors, it is time for the US Attorney General, Merrick Garland, to file a federal civil suit against Rittenhouse, for violating the civil rights of the people Rittenhouse shot and killed. This is how the Ku Klux Klan killers of the four Voting Rights Workers, in Mississippi in 1964, were finally successfully prosecuted, after being acquitted of murder, which is a state charge. It is also how O. J. Simpson was successfully prosecuted to win large damages for the families of his murder victims. The previous criminal trial, even with an acquittal, establishes the fact of the taking of the lives and with them their civil rights. Why should the U.S. Attorney General do this? Because it would signal that the Federal Government is not irredeemably White Supremacist, and that it actually wants to be representative of all Americans. Allegiance is only justified to the extent this is true, and that extent is sorely lacking today.
(19 November 2021)

In a statement released today, President Biden said: “we must acknowledge that the jury has spoken.” This seems a pretty clear signal that no Civil Rights suit will be filed by the US Attorney General.
(19 November 2021)

The purpose of the American Police and Justice/Legal System is to preserve and protect the status quo of a white supremacy racist and patriarchal country. Besides outright oppression, there is much deception and P.R. applied to this purpose. But, it is also important to remember that though “villains” come in every shape, age, color, ethnicity and socio-economic ($) class, there are also “heroes” and “good people” from every one of those categories as well — just not enough of them by a long shot.
(17 November 2021)

Another triumph of American White Supremacy: the 14th Amendment (“equal protection”) is voided by the Color Line. I do not pledge allegiance, and I will remember all of this when next drafted into jury duty.
(19 November 2021)

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My wife and I have been binge watching the ABC series (2014-2020) ‘How To Get Away With Murder’, streaming on Netflix (a new thing for us, in 2020, after no TV of any kind since about 2004).

What I find intriguing about this show is that it is a chained murder soap opera heavily laced with extensive social justice stories and courtroom speeches, all made commercially viable and popular by liberal use of hyperactive sex scenes, fast-paced hyper-dramatic emotionalism, cast inclusivity by all parameters (black, white, Latino/Latina, Asian, Muslim, gay, straight, bi, every possible permutation of those), fast-paced “gritty” violence, glitzy ‘hip’ (sic) modernism/colloquialism/argot, with a crew of millennials front and center, along with an Academy Award winning actress (Viola Davis, the lead) who is also producer/executive producer (which undoubtedly was essential to getting the original ABC approval and funding), and – excellently – a large number of African-American actors/actresses who are: strong, pivotal, quick, sharp, superb with language (from the King’s English all the way to ghetto, downhome and jailhouse argot), eye-appealing when that is necessary for the stories, and both “heroes” and “villains.” Even with the many exaggerations and razzmatazz for commercial appeal, the show has managed to really blast away (mercilessly) at many injustices in American society. I think the show is a good example of the entertainers behind it using their professional skills to really put out strong and timely social justice messages while simultaneously cutting good paychecks for themselves. Of course, one could instead argue that they are somewhat cynically exploiting popular social justice hopes (of the Barack Obama type of “hope and change” longings) to capture “audience share,” but I don’t think that is the case.

Because of our binge watching of this show (6 seasons of 15 episodes each = 90), those social justice issues (as expressed really vividly in the show) have been much on my mind.

Viola Davis is the star and standout performer, the whole series is built around her as an actress, and around her character. She’s phenomenal. Excepting her, my favorite characters are “Frank Delfino” and “Bonnie Winterbottom,” they have enviable fortitude. My favorite hairstyle for “Annalise Keating” (Viola Davis) is her last one.

I’ll be thinking of this show the next time I’m called to jury duty.

https://www.netflix.com/title/80024057

(16 November 2021)

One of the biggest and recurring targets of the ‘Murder’ show was the large over-representation of African-Americans in America’s jails, and as America’s victims of homicide by police (and framing by the Justice system: local, state and federal).
(19 November 2021)

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How to Get Away With Depicting Social Justice in Hollywood
19 November 2021
https://www.counterpunch.org/2021/11/19/how-to-get-away-with-depicting-social-justice-in-hollywood/

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Grace Notes in the Void

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Grace Notes in the Void

We are fleshy knots of emotion peppered with thought all woven into the great web of life connecting each to all even in their loneliness of free will to be enthralled by the illusion of gaining isolated protective power by saying yes to the extinction of others without ever letting that mirage evaporate to reveal ourselves as those others. Perhaps it is best to let everyone spin in their self-referential bubbles of dramatic trivialities designed to produce personal destinies of terminations in helpless surprise, if for all our deepest commitments are to avoid knowing ourselves in reality so as to hide from responsibility for not acting to stop destroying our world by that willful unknowing. So, I am silent. Life has no purpose if it has no end, but we would have no grace if we ended life by clinging to our delusions as purposes. So once awakened we go on through life’s void of meaning till that end is imposed on us because to stop before then is to defeat ourselves by letting that void rob us of the only purposes we could ever possibly have in reality: honor with compassion, beauty with truth, adventure with love. And in that way we achieve meaning in our own times, being passing grace notes in the eternal void.

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José Mujica, Leadership by Example

What kind of World Leader do we need today? Prominent examples offered by a variety of nations include: Joe Biden (U.S. president, 2021-), Angela Merkel (chancellor of Germany, 2005-present), Emmanuel Macron (French president since 2017), Fumio Kishida (Prime Minister of Japan, 2021-), Boris Johnson (UK Prime Minister since 2019), Xi Jingping (President of the People’s Republic of China since 2013), Vladimir Putin (Russian president from 1999-2008 and 2012-present), and Bahsar al-Assad (Syrian president since 2000 and until human extinction).

Each of these leaders personifies a particular kind of socio-political regime, which variously you might be favorably disposed to or disapprove of depending on your own political and moral values. To my tastes, the absolute best national and world leader we could possibly have would be José Alberto “Pepe” Mujica Cordano, who was president of Uruguay during 2010 to 2015, or an individual just like him.

I was brought to this thought by recently seeing a number of movies and documentaries about Mujica, and the Tupamaros urban guerrilla group in which he got his start.

Tupamaros (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tupamaros), also known as the MLN-T (Movimiento de Liberación Nacional – Tupamaros, or Tupamaros – National Liberation Movement), was a left-wing urban guerrilla group in Uruguay in the 1960s and early 1970s. The Tupamaros started as a youthful group of students and professionals, and attracted trade union members and people of poor socio-economic status from rural areas. They formed in the 1960s during a time of instability in Uruguay caused by low food prices in Europe and Asia decreasing the value of exports from Uruguay and resulting in lower wages for unionized workers, fewer social services, and increased national tension accompanied by a diminishment of constitutional guarantees by an increasingly authoritarian government. In their low-level insurgency against the Uruguayan government, the Tupamaros killed 50 soldiers, policemen and also civilians. 300 Tupamaros died either in action or in prisons (mostly in 1972), and about 3,000 Tupamaros were also imprisoned.

In their early years, the Tupamaros avoided political violence, but increasingly violent pressure by the government’s military forces pushed them into low intensity guerrilla warfare in 1970, which continued until they were forcefully neutralized in 1972 by the Uruguayan army. ‘State of Siege’ (Etat de Siege) (https://youtu.be/rjv36b99JXk) is a 1972 film by Costa-Gavras about the 1970 kidnap-capture by the Tupamaros of Dan Mitrione, the American torture instructor to the militarized police forces of Uruguay. The Tupamaros’s aim in kidnapping Mitrione was to ransom him in exchange for imprisoned Tupamaros. Such a prisoner exchange was denied by Uruguay and the U.S. (during the Nixon-Kissinger regime), and Mitrione was later executed. [1]

The 2018 film ‘A Twelve Year Night’ (La Noche de 12 Años) (https://youtu.be/y97o1phiyRY) is about the capture, along with with murders, of Tupamaros urban socialist-communist guerrillas in 1972, with subsequent tortures and long brutal imprisonment in solitary confinement of nine specially selected and still surviving Tupamaros leaders, from 1973 to 1985. The last vestiges of Uruguayan democracy were removed in 1973 when the right-wing authoritarian government became a pure dictatorship. For more about this excellent movie, see [2].

What struck me as I watched ‘A Twelve Year Night’ was that it was more than just a searing Uruguayan story of personal struggles for survival by prisoners of conscience (between 1972 and 1985) within the larger context of the national struggle for political liberation and social transformation in Uruguay between 1967 and 1985, but by analogy it is also the more general story of the struggles for personal survival by prisoners of conscience worldwide, and of the many heartbreaking struggles of oppressed national-identity populations to gain their political liberation and decent and secure socio-economic lives. I also thought that if ever accurate movies were made about the US prisons at Abu Ghraib, Iraq, and at Guantanamo, Cuba, they would look much like ‘A Twelve Year Night’.

‘A Twelve-Year Night’ focussed on three of the nine ’special’ Tupamaros held and abused by the Uruguayan military for 13 years, with José Mujica being one of them. Mujica is an amazing individual. After his release from prison in 1985 and with the restoration of Uruguayan democracy and a new amnesty law, Mujica went on to reenter politics in 1989, become an deputy in the general elections of 1994, a senator in the elections of 1999, appointed Minister of Livestock, Agriculture and Fisheries in 2005, and was elected the 40th president of Uruguay in 2009, occupying that office from 2010 until 2015.

In his first speech as president-elect before a crowd of supporters, Mujica acknowledged his political adversaries and called for unity, stating that there would be no winners nor losers (“Ni vencidos, ni vencedores”). He added that “it is a mistake to think that power comes from above, when it comes from within the hearts of the masses… it has taken me a lifetime to learn this”. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jos%C3%A9_Mujica)

During Mujica’s term as president: state-controlled sales of marijuana were legalized in order to fight drug-related crimes and address related health issues; laws were passed for same-sex marriage and legalized abortion; in a speech to the UN General Assembly in 2013, he “called on the international community to strengthen efforts to preserve the planet for future generations and highlighted the power of the financial systems and the impact of economic fallout on ordinary people. He urged a return to simplicity, with lives founded on human relationships, love, friendship, adventure, solidarity and family, instead of lives shackled to the economy and the markets.”

Between 2004 and 2014: the share of public expenditures in Uruguay for social needs rose from 60.9% to 75.5%, the national poverty rate was reduced from 18% to 9.7%, the minimum wage was raised from UYU$4,800 to UYU$10,000, and Uruguay became the most advanced country in the Americas in terms of respect for “fundamental labor rights, in particular freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining and the right to strike.” According to BBC correspondent Wyre Davies, “Mujica left office with a relatively healthy economy and with social stability those bigger neighbors could only dream of.”

As president, Mujica chose not to live in the presidential palace (as a waste of money) but on his wife’s farm outside Montevideo, and the presidential limousine during his term was his own blue 1987 Volkswagen Beetle, which he drives himself. That VW was valued at $1,800 in 2010 and was listed as the entirety of his personal wealth in the mandatory annual personal wealth declaration he filed that year. Because of his great popularity and admiration for him, in 2014 he was offered $1M for that car. He said that if he did get that $1M in exchange for his car that the money would be donated to house the homeless through a program that he supports. Mujica donated around 90% of his $12,000 monthly salary to charities that benefit poor people and small entrepreneurs. Mujica and his wife (since 2005, longtime partner Lucía Topolansky, a fellow former Tupamaros member, senator and former vice-president) have no children, live simply (with a three-legged dog), and continue making significant charitable donations to this day.

‘El Pepe, Una Vida Suprema’ is a wonderful documentary about and with Mujica, made in 2018 by Emir Kusturica (https://youtu.be/BsKVKgKuzHY). One of the most delightful scenes in this documentary is of Mujica driving himself from his farm to the transfer-of-presidential-power ceremony in Montevideo in 2015, with the entire route lined by cheering people, and the ceremony itself taking place before a massive throng of jubilant people celebrating him, and with a huge parade float in the shape of his blue VW on display. One point of access to this documentary is given at [3].

One of the most endearing portrayals of Mujica is that which he gives himself by speaking directly to the viewer, in a 10 minute excerpt from documentary ‘Human’ made by Yann Arthus-Bertrand in 2015 (https://youtu.be/4GX6a2WEA1Q). Of all the web-linked videos I have given in this article, at a minimum see this one. It should make it obvious why I would wish Mujica and people like him to be our political leaders.

NOTES

[1] ’State of Siege’ (trailer, en Français)

[2] ‘A Twelve Year Night’ (more about this movie)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Twelve-Year_Night

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6792282/

https://www.netflix.com/title/80185375

[3] El Pepe, A Supreme Life (documentary)

https://www.netflix.com/title/81094074

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Infinity Untwisted

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The business of America is extinction.

Our lack of confidence in the sufficiency of ourselves as we are is capitalism’s greatest propaganda triumph for our enslavement to it. The fault lies in ourselves, not our stars, that we worship so abjectly the hollowest of idols by looking directly at reality and only seeing the unreality of ourselves as powerful godlets instead of the oxen we are, harnessed to the earth-chewing plow of wealth we drag through the caked mud of our dismal unthinking, to seed harvests we will never feed from.

The quality of justice and compassion in any state is a function of the standard of moral character its people personally maintain, and not on its form of government. The American judicial system is designed to ensure the American capitalist system suffers no threat of interruption or reform, from the vast populist socialist aspirations of the American people by the workings of democracy; and the management of those restraints on American democracy are grandly called “politics” in America, and are known everywhere else simply as “corruption.”

BEST U.S. PRESIDENTS:
Abraham Lincoln,
Ulysses S. Grant,
Franklin D. Roosevelt,
Lyndon B. Johnson (till 1965),
Jimmy Carter (till 1978).

Why think when you can panic?

The insane need love, too, even if you’re married to them. In retrospect, I’ve learned that one should never get glum or nasty because a love affair is ending, because they all always end, so exit with grace. Your memories of the sweet times then are the closest you will ever get to forever. So, if you are still young, remember this to gift your dotage with. When you get old and your liver can’t take it any more, you have to give up liquor and run on memories. Thank god for music.

Creation: a needle drops into the groove.

A pebble erupted out of the infinite void of nonexistence and dropped through the flat glassy stillness of potentiality to raise a torrid splash that rippled out a ring of luminosity enclosing a widening field of turbulent existence within its circle of cooling afterglow relaxation of sparsely granular sparkling black emptiness exuding coiling time as viscous dissipation lengthening memories of receding origins into expanding rarefied timeless unknowing coldness beyond forgetting, where all questioning is quelled. Infinity untwisted is zero. Doing nothing, nothing is left undone.

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Action and Non-action at a Distance, versus Moral Magnetism

Americans are fascinated by and obsessed with guns because they give the illusion of allowing one to work one’s will by action at a distance.

Americans are mesmerized by and obsessed with handheld ‘telinternet’ electronics because they give the tenuous illusion of shielding one’s non-action, and of being insulting, from a distance.

Both of these fetishes are indictors of the lack of social cohesiveness among Americans. We separate ourselves by fear and shame. Hence, our society is fractious, disunited, weak. Our politics fully conforms to Ambrose Bierce’s definition of that word: “A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage.”

It is then no mystery why, as Daniel Warner bemoans (https://www.counterpunch.org/2021/10/25/collective-responsibility-and-our-moral-compass/), random collections of Americans are consistently morally irresponsible by failing to stop injustices occurring right before their eyes.

Behind the belief in an ability for action or non-action at a distance rests the illusion of having a store of personal power: each of us a little Zeus with a quiver of thunderbolts to hurl at offenders from our safe remote clouds. We cherish this illusion because it is how we stifle the voice of gnawing fear at the root of our behavior: in truth we are powerless individuals among uncaring people in an uncaring world.

While it is comforting to complain about being in a “99%” victimized by the leading actors in our national political stage play, the soap opera they put on accurately reflects our consensus about what kind of society we are willing to accept, and what kind of individuals we allow ourselves to be. While American democracy is blocked from implementing the populist socialist aspirations of the American public, by the Fort Apache attitude of our political advantage-takers, it is still true that American government reflects the general character of that American public. In this regard our government remains representative. So, we both are and are not victims of our political managers.

Individual reactions to our societal mediocrity can include: charitable action intended to ameliorate suffering and inspire wider imitation; activism intended to promote greater justice and inspire others to similar activism; a disdainful loss of pity for the crowd because its individuals are seen as too easily and ignorantly allowing themselves to be exploited and enslaved by their political gullibility and lack of social solidarity.

Fortunately, there remains a portion of the population that is clear-eyed about our fractious social reality and yet makes the individual effort not to acquiesce to it but instead “do the right thing” as a matter of principle, and of personal pride, even if convinced that life is intrinsically absurd and the idea of any future “triumph of good” is an illusion. Probably most of us think we are in this group, but of course most of us are not (as our society shows). Probably all of us can recall some instance in our lives (and perhaps many) when we have been lovingly and generously touched by the consequences of kind acts by people, known or unknown, who were trying to inject goodness for others into our times.

In his article, Daniel Warner repeats the falsehood (widely publicized by the New York Times in 1964) that the assault on and murder of Kitty Genovese proceeded without anyone seeking to stop that crime while it was in progress. From wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_of_Kitty_Genovese):

“In the early hours of March 13, 1964, Kitty Genovese, a 28-year-old bartender, was stabbed outside the apartment building where she lived in the Kew Gardens neighborhood of Queens in New York City, New York, United States. Two weeks after the murder, The New York Times published an article erroneously claiming that 38 witnesses saw or heard the attack, and that none of them called the police or came to her aid.”

For the full story about the tragedy of Kitty Genovese, the responses of neighbors who tried to help, and the disgusting duplicity of the newspaper writers who jumped with alacrity to social criticism — “the bystander effect” — while ignoring investigation of the facts, see ‘The Witness’, the 2016 riveting documentary movie produced by Kitty Genovese’s younger brother, William (http://www.thewitness-film.com/).

I lived in Jamaica, Queens, just east past Kew Gardens until 1962 and then further east in Suffolk County into the late 1960s. I remember the shock, dread and sadness of the Kitty Genovese murder as a local current event, and always thought about it when the Long Island Railroad train I was taking to or from Manhattan would stop at the quaint Kew Gardens station whose small parking lot was where Kitty Genovese had left her little FIAT sports car, which she never returned to after the early hours of 13 March 1964. Kitty Genovese bled her life out in the arms of a neighbor woman who rushed to her aid while waiting for emergency services to arrive.

While I believe that American society is corrupt, and perhaps even irredeemably so, I also believe we will always have individuals who will instinctively embody goodness and selflessness for the sake of others overwhelmed in crises of pain and sorrow. This is taking action at hand, of human connection and of solidarity, without concern for feeling powerful.

The natures of our national and world societies are reflections of the (deficient) proportions of their populations who take the risk of adopting that altruistic attitude. The “risk” to the individual, of trying to live by some standard of communal altruism, is of failure at advantage-taking, as evidenced by the counterexamples of “the winners” in our world, who achieve their “successes” (money, status, de facto legal immunity, the envy from the multitudes) by taking the exact opposite attitude: being parasites.

Daniel Warner quotes Virginia Held, that “a random collection of individuals may be held responsible for not taking collective action,” and he concludes that “a universally accepted institutional moral magnet no longer exists” for remagnetizing the failed moral compasses of a people who in random groupings fail (or will fail) to take collective action to stop moral outrages that erupt directly in front of them.

I see the failure to ‘take collective action’ against the moral outrages of the obvious victimization of others, and the evasion of responsibility to do so, as the unspoken design criterion of American society. It is a labyrinth of advantage-taking designed by and for moral evasion. My attitude here is like that of Jonathan Swift: I can condemn human society as a whole, as a fractious collection of competing parasites, while simultaneously prizing those many individuals — few of whom I can ever know — who contribute what goodness and beauty and compassion and connection are available for experiencing when we need them.

Also, a ‘universally accepted moral compass remagnetizer’ does exists. Put yourself in the place of the victim you see before you and ask: minimally, how would I want those who see me in this crisis, to help get me out of it? That then is the personal remagnetization challenge. It is for me, too.

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