Thursday, September 01, 2005

Our death 

In case anyone doesn't feel horrible enough after trying to contemplate the destruction of New Orleans, and then being forced to realize that simply feeling horrible is what will actually allow criminals in government to get away with murder, I thought I'd add a couple of points:

1) Just to substantiate Wolf Blitzer's points below: one of Bush's main priorities has been gutting FEMA, the agency formerly headed by James Lee Witt, who essentially rebuilt it after 12 years of malign Republican neglect. As Blicero remembers, Al Gore made the deceptive mistake in 2000 of claiming to know this James Lee Witt, who came in for a lot of meaningless praise during the 2000 campaign; but the sociopathic Gore had only met James Lee Witt's assistant. In any case, James Lee Witt's agency, FEMA, was put in the hands of Bush crony and crew-cutted blood-thirsty jack-booted corporate fascist kleptocrat Joe Allbaugh in 2000. But for the last couple of years, after helping to gut FEMA, Allbaugh has been cashing in on the FEMA name at his own private firm for looting (which employs no black people scavenging for food in flooded cities). As Josh Marshall makes clear at TPM, the whole idea of federal disaster preparedness has been systematically mocked by the Bush looting team.

2) This is a more horrible point. Today, I had to listen to some demented ghoul reading letters from ignorant Americans who had been enjoying the disaster on TV. All of the letters were noting that "we" Americans (the term "we" evidently means both the suffering victims in New Orleans and the titillated TV audience) should get money from the rest of the world, because we gave money to the victims of the 2004 tsunami. Never mind that "we" have all or most of the money in the world. And never mind that New Orleans doesn't really need money right now, it needs soldiers and doctors and engineers, and it needs to have had the Federal government listen to it when it went on and on for years about the need for Federal support in the repairing of the city's levees. And never mind that many of the Asian areas to which "we" gave money no longer have the money "we" gave them, or any money at all, because those areas were living in destitution before the tsunami, which then caused more damage than could be conceived of or ever repaired, the cost of which is still beyond estimation, but which nonetheless doubtless exceeds the sums of money that have already been donated. Never mind all of that.

None of it is as sickening as the more fundamental idea that the Hurricane provides "us" (that is, TV viewers) with a chance to be the victims, and to enjoy "ourselves" as the ones who get to have TV attention, world sympathy, and lots of dead "heroes"--that it is our turn to revel in death, that this is, as the NY Post put it obscenely today on its shockingly repulsive front page, "our tsunami." Let's unpack the implications of this phrase:

a) Hurricane Katrina, which has caused inconveivable suffering and taken thousands of lives and disrupted the lives of millions, is "as bad" as the 2004 tsunami, which killed at least 250,000 people, and probably closer to half a million, and which erased from the face of the earth an entire province of Indonesia.

b) The deaths of those hundreds of thousands of people would somehow have been worse if the deaths had been "ours," if they had been the deaths of Americans.

c) The suffering in New Orleans is in fact worse because it is indeed "ours." But of course: those who suffer do not pause to say, "This suffering is terrible, even more so because it is mine." Only TV viewers and "journalists" take the time to appropriate suffering explicitly and with pride. Only they take the time to declare publicly that they possess the suffering.

d) There are apparently many Americans (at least, this is what the NY Post headline assumes) who are not actually seized by the presence of hundreds of thousands of suffering victims in their own country, who are so detached from the spectacle of the disaster that they want and need to be reminded that it is "theirs" before they start to try to feel sympathy for the victims or even interest in their plight.

These Americans (it is assumed) respond only to the suffering of "their" people not because they are chauvinistic or racist. That would be too simple and actually too reassuring an explanation.

In fact, knowing that the people dying on TV are "theirs" allows viewers to experience the thrill of being part of the televised disaster, even as they recline in their air-conditioned living rooms. If it is "ours," then "we" too are part of the "event," and are thus experiencing the "really real" as it is sanctioned, indeed sanctified, by the presence of corpses and TV cameras. If it is "ours," then "we" too are dead, and on TV, even though we can eat burgers and drink beer and sit around waiting, condemned to go on living. If the suffering is "ours," then we don't have to respond to it or take an attitude towards it or try to articulate our confused feelings of guilt and impotence, because "we," too, are actually suffering (even though we are not).

This is the ultimate purpose of the claim to possess suffering: it allows us to avoid the difficulty of actually looking at it, seeing it, determining our place and responsibility in relation to it, feeling our difference from the victims, and being reminded of the fact that--still--we are alive.

UPDATE: Thursday morning. I cannot take this shit anymore. I ought to be covered in my own vomit after reading the top few posts at Atrios. Just go there, read, and learn 1) that the current head of FEMA was formerly an estate planning lawyer; 2) that Michael Chertoff was promoting Homeland Security's "National Preparedness Month" on Fox News yesterday morning; 3) that Chertoff said that the reason people are currently dying in the New Orleans Convention Center is that that they made the "choice" not to leave the city--even though most of the people who remained in the city obviously do not have cars and the money to pay for bus or train tickets, and even though the Federal looting team (we have no government) made no effort whatsoever to assist in any sort of organized pre-storm evacuation; 4) that Bush said on national television this morning that "no one could have anticipated" the levee breaking, even though human beings representing the city government of New Orleans had, for the duration of Bush's 5 years as chief looter, used words to describe the danger of cutting Federal funds for the ongoing task of fortifying the city's levees, and also used words (frequently quoted in newspaper articles) to warn that the levees could break in the case of a major hurricane.

Bush will rot in hell for this. I believe it. He is actually rotting in hell at this very moment. One cannot speak as he has just done, on national television, without in that very moment exposing oneself to judgment. He has become a demon. The death that sucks us in towards the black holes of his eyes--this death at the same time expresses the truth of his merciless self-damnation. There is nothing left in him. He has murdered his own humanity. Suicide, or any form of subsequent death, is impossible. He is already dead and in hell, and what we see is a demon suffering eternal torment. It looks different in hell, where Bush actually and eternally is, at this very moment. On earth, eternal torment and demonic self-murder take on the aspect of Bush's demented vortical face.


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