Saturday, June 04, 2005

Left Denial On 9/11


August West:

March 1, 2002
A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine presented to the Infoshop site an article he had posted on several indymedia sites regarding the real story of 9/11. He's posted before at Infoshop, in fact was highlighted. He was surprised to get back a response from site "master" Chuck O, saying "I have a low tolerance for any kind of conspiracy theory. As far as I'm concerned, a bunch of Osama's buddies conducted these attacks. I'm not going to post anything that says otherwise." He got a similar, if less straight-forward response, from Anarchy Magazine's Jason McQuinn, who said circumstantial evidence is not enough for him to print such a story (though it’s good enough for deciding Osama did it?).
One can argue that such attitudes violate basic anarchist principles of openness and refusal to censor unpopular views. But beyond that, Chuck O's response is a good example of what is a very common response on the part of the Left to questions about the official story, let alone alternative explanations: a lack of interest, often expressed in dismissive terms. I prefer to not discuss the critiques of the official story, and refer people to where these are thoroughly analyzed.
Instead, I will focus on why the Left seems so eager for once to accept official reality, and accept it from the administration of the Thief in Chief (he stole the election, remember?), who couldn't even tell the truth about his drunken driving arrest, whose father headed the CIA and was involved in Iran-Contragate, and whose grandfather Prescott was a banker for the Nazis. It's important to answer “why", because this shows the barriers we're up against in raising such questions, well beyond any matter of getting the facts out.
Denial lies at the heart of this unusual Left reaction. Many activists have looked at the questions, thought about the answers for a bit, and retreated in horror in the face of implications. If the government had foreknowledge and let the attacks happen, or worse, actually took part in facilitating them, then the American state is far more vicious than they could have imagined. And if so, what would happen to them should they vocalize this? Needless to say, this would greatly raise the stakes of political action well beyond the relatively superficial level that even many leftists operate at. It would be impossible to go on living as before, being essentially a spectator whose life is work/shopping/entertainment, with the occasional political rally, lecture or movie to spice things up and make one feel involved. People like that, or even ones more involved with some regular effort at political reform, could no longer feel that the political situation could be changed for the better through small, incremental steps, a 100 year or even 500 year plan. This prospect is thoroughly unsettling, and is easier to deal with if simply dismissed outright.
The events of that day in September were no doubt very traumatic, especially for those who happen to live in New York or Washington, or who have friends or family there. There used to be a saying in the 60s that a conservative was a liberal who just got mugged. While this is rather incomplete, there is an element of truth in it: Being subject personally to a crime means one’s survival instincts go into action, and people who would never get violent otherwise may do unimaginable things. This is quite necessary in the cause of immediate self-defense, but it can have repercussions well past the actual situation. In the same way, those who were in close proximity to the 9/11 attacks were traumatized. I know a radical performance artist who was in New York then and told me that the day after, had he been given a rifle and told to shoot certain people, he would have done so. He now dismisses any talk of a different explanation of 9/11. Like him, many leftists feel like they were personally attacked and demand revenge. In a more extreme version, this has led people like Christopher Hitchens to assert that the attacks represented an unprecedented level of evil, cannot be compared to anything that came beforehand, and a forceful response by the American state is therefore totally just and stands above criticism.
Beyond specific individual reactions we run into the social character of an individual who lives in this society. This is the individual psychic structure which transforms feelings and sensory inputs into social behavior. This structure generates the behavior pattern one needs to fit into this society, to do things such as hold down a job while suppressing your utter disgust at the daily humiliation, exploitation and degradation this entails, shop for overpriced necessities in often-overcrowded neon-lit metal and concrete structures, and compete with others for space and timely progress in ever longer commutes. In all this activity, we are surrounded by an increasingly advertising-saturated environment, populated with people who look like ads or tv "soaps" characters, whose conversations and general ways of being reflect self-absorption, short attention spans, and a cynical withdrawal from politics coupled with conformist materialist strivings.
The social character of the current era is programmed to go along with the flow. Under such circumstances, even leftists are under pressure to adapt or go insane (or broke). Most of their time is spent as good citizens (obedient workers/shoppers/commuters), regardless of what they say and think when acting in consciously political ways. They therefore manifest authoritarian ways towards others, e.g., censoring "their" website, and in general act so as to reproduce the basic patterns of behavior of this society. If everyone around us talks about nothing but sports or movies or music shows, we feel pressure to fit in if we don’t want to be left out. And if the dominant message that everyone picks up from the organs of propaganda and replicates in their conversations is that we are under an external terrorist threat, the unconscious drive is to accept this and adapt; better that than getting even more isolated than we already are, and risk ostracism from even long-time friends or associates, an even more impoverished social life (who wants to date someone who’s always creating waves? No fun), and ridicule.
Beneath unconscious motivations also lie some conscious agendas. Those on the Left who have embraced "critical support" for a "limited response" war will no doubt not wish to have their political bankruptcy exposed. But even most of those who oppose the War have nevertheless accepted the notion that the U.S. was attacked by a vicious enemy. For some, this represents an opportunity to promote their moralistic approach: let us respond in an appropriate, moral and non-military manner. Others, such as Chomsky, Michael Albert, Howard Zinn and Alex Cockburn, simply trot out the payback explanation: this horrible attack happened because America has done bad things, has not listened to us (wag, wag the finger), and better start changing its policies (as if an empire can be run in a nice way!). Yet others who disagree with war boosters like Katrina van den Heuvel of The Nation nevertheless buy their thesis that the war promotes increasing state powers (e.g., making airport baggage inspectors federal employees), and this amounts to a move towards "socialism". If the events of 9/11 were not what they seemed to be, this takes away the chance to promote these political programs, perhaps to even advance certain careers.
Others on the Left have such an intense hatred of Islamic Fundamentalism (which is indeed a reactionary force, though hardly one contending for global supremacy) that they want to see it crushed, and so what if this promotes the interests of the American-led global empire of capital? A group of former situationists, including Tom Ward who used to write for the Village Voice, have even articulated the notion that there is a struggle for world domination between Western Capitalism and Islamic Fundamentalism, and that "we" should choose the West as the lesser of two evils, the side whose victory is more likely to promote the long-term interests of general social transformation.
Peter Hudis, writing in News and Letters, articulated a viewpoint which, while not quite as extreme as this, nevertheless asserts that the attacks happened because Fundamentalism hates freedom: sounds a lot like an echo of Bush. In addition, there are those on the Left who believe European "civilization" is a beacon of human development in an otherwise savage world, have an outright racist hatred of the people of Central Asia and the Middle East ("goatfuckers" is what one marxist i know keeps calling them), and don't mind seeing the West bring some "civilization" to those savages. Were the commonly-accepted notions of what happened on 9/11 to be contradicted, all these political stances would be exposed for the foolishness and perversity they embody.
Certain organizations such as ZMag have the perspective that a discussion of possible U.S. government foreknowledge and/or complicity is at odds with critical theory. An analysis of institutions is what's necessary, they say, and talking about government involvement is a form of conspiracy theory, whose focus is corrupt individuals rather than the overall structure of the system, and whose promoters often espouse simplistic if not all-out right wing politics. True enough, all events happen in the context of global capitalism and its dynamics, especially the accumulation imperative. But within these constraints, corporate and state managers act to facilitate their ends. And pretending that they don't act deliberately and in secret to promote their goals flies in the face of history, such as the events of Pearl Harbor, or the Gulf of Tonkin pseudo-attack which led to dramatically-escalated U.S. involvement in Indochina. A determination to not deal with what the elites actually do to enforce their policies is a good way to disarm yourself and let them have their way.
And to top it all, there is the popularity factor. Bush's war seems to be more popular than Jesus right now. Many on the Left simply don't want to oppose what appear to be widely accepted views and alienate new readers/listeners/viewers of their media projects or potential recruits to their organizations. So even opposition to the war has to be couched in terms of "but we are also patriots", or at least "we are responsible critics". As if people who accept the premises behind this expansion of the Orwellian military/police state would nevertheless be open to a critique of capitalism. This is opportunism of the worst sort.
Whatever the reasons, a refusal to look honestly and fully at the reality we face and discuss all the questions raised about the official 9/11 story can only mean living life as a lie, living on a false basis in a fantasy world. The refusal of much of the Left to permit open discussion of this topic undermines the credibility and security of those who do see the need to examine the situation and raise questions. It undermines the solidarity of opposition to capital and the state. In many cases, denial may simply be a dishonest attempt to protect one's self and let others take the heat; "Don't murder me" . I see striking parallels between the Left’s reaction in the present situation and its reaction in 1914, as the supposedly socialist Second International turned its back on numerous pledges to never allow a war, and its constituent parties joined the various national war efforts. This amounted to sending many of their own particularly working class) members to be slaughtered on behalf of a struggle for markets and the "national (capital) interest".
This ain't no party, this ain't no disco, this ain’t no fooling around. We are up against a global capital which is facing mounting barriers to its very survival, and it's reacting predictably like a cornered animal. Those who believe that the U.S. government due to some uniqueness would not kill so many of its own people to promote the objectives of its masters, and would not engage in such perverse behavior, are setting themselves up to be lambs ready for the slaughter. Now more than ever is the time to assert the truth in the face of overwhelming official lies, to face the tsunami wave without fear. Public opinion, especially as presented by the mass media, is no more than a reflection of the sum of official lies, and cannot be used as a gauge for what is the correct course of action.
This article was posted on 1.19.04 on Left