Thursday, April 05, 2007

Hersh reveals neoliberal ontological conundrum 

"America has no memory." That is a truism.

But does this mean that "we" (whoever we are) forget the past? Or does this mean that there is, quite literally, no past to be remembered?

In an utterly nihilistic, self-perpetuating system, devoted to no goals whatsoever beyond its own perpetuation, what can change? And if nothing changes, what can pass so as to become past? Is the problem, then, amnesia, an inability to remember, or is the problem a perfect memory of what looks and feels exactly like the unchanging present?

At the end of a frank and fascinating interview with Matt Taibbi about Iran, Bush, Nixon, and the press, Seymour Hersh makes the important point:

Q: What's the main lesson you take, looking back at America's history the last forty years?

A: There's nothing to look back to. We're dealing with the same problems now that we did then. We know from the Pentagon Papers -- and to me they were the most important documents ever written -- that from 1963 on, Kennedy and Johnson and Nixon lied to us systematically about the war. I remember how shocked I was when I read them. So . . . duh! Nothing's changed. They've just gotten better at dealing with the press. Nothing's changed at all.


George Santayana said that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Another truism.

What Hersh's answer ("There's nothing to look back to") suggests is something more sinister: when politics is reduced to blind inertia punctuated by episodes of murderous self-defense; when public discourse is reduced to a haze of equally meaningless but ostensibly contradictory "perspectives" offered by televised face-images; when the neoliberal system becomes an end in itself and thus without end; when, in other words, we repeat the past without even the awareness that we are repeating it--at that point, memory is no longer an option.

Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it. But those who repeat the past for too long soon have no past to remember. And then there is no way out.


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