Posts Tagged ‘United States’


TRADITIONAL VALUES, n. pl. The bedrock of the nation: fear of the unknown; hatred of the unorthodox; anti-intellectualism; racism; sexism; homophobia; sexual repression; fear and loathing of the human body; the morbid prurience of the “moral”; enjoyment of the sadistic infliction of pain; an ignorance-is-strength, faith-not-reason philosophy; a preference for “faith” over facts; blind belief in the tyranny of the majority; censorship; gullibility; mindless support of the government, especially in time of war; rejoicing over slaughter; a sheep-like longing for “strong leaders”; the desire to make a buck at any price to the environment or to other people; toadying behavior toward one’s bosses; bullying behavior toward one’s subordinates; intolerance of anyone who deviates one scintilla from a narrow, Christian “morality”; the desire to inflict pain on the “immoral”; and the desire to force them to be “moral” through the use of violence, coercion, torture, imprisonment, and execution. Without these Traditional Values, America would not be what it is today.

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–from the revised and expanded edition of The American Heretic’s Dictionary, the 21st-century successor to Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary


For the last few months we’ve been running the best posts from years past, posts that will be new to most of our subscribers. This is a slightly revised and expanded post from January 2015.

Given the spate of near-daily Islamic-fanatic atrocities, and the wholesale pandering of the Trump administration to its deranged theofascist base, this post seems especially relevant now. Indeed, who today can’t be wondering, “Which is worse, Christianity or Islam?”

Let’s take a look at some of the worst structures and practices in both Islamic and Christian lands, both current and historic:

Slavery

Slavery is still practiced in many Islamic nations. The most notorious recent example is the enslavement of thousands of Yazidis by ISIS in Iraq. The Nigerian fundamentalist group Boko Haram is also notorious for enslavement of its victims.

At the same time, slavery persisted in widespread form in Christian lands until 1888 (Brazil) and in perhaps its most brutal form ever in the most religiously devout part of the United States until 1865. And enslavement of prisoners in the United States is still very widespread, currently involving at minimum hundreds of thousands of prisoners “paid” a few pennies per hour by for-profit corporations.

There is plenty of justification for slavery in both the Bible and the Koran, and not one word against it in either book.  (If you doubt this, run a search on Google or Bing. In fact, you’ll find justification for all of the horrors listed in this post.)

So, which is worse in regard to slavery, Christianity or Islam?

Islam “wins” this one based on the sheer brutality of some current Islamist groups.

Terrorism

At present, the most vicious and most active terrorist groups are Islamic (ISIS, Boko Haram, Al Qaeda, Taliban, and MILF — this is for real: the acronym stands for Moro Islamic Liberation Front). These groups are responsible for the murder of uncounted thousands of innocent people across the globe in recent years.

But Christian terrorism also exists, though in more subdued form.  In the United States, the Ku Klux Klan is a proudly Christian organization. As well, “right to life” Christian fanatics occasionally murder abortion providers and bomb abortion clinics; and they routinely stalk and anonymously threaten abortion providers, providing a dictionary definition of terrorism: they’re trying to frighten and intimidate — terrorize — abortion providers into no longer providing this constitutionally protected medical procedure.

Still, there’s no question that at present Islam “wins” this one hands down.

Internecine Warfare

By far the worst current example of internecine warfare is the Sunni-Shia mass bloodletting in Syria and Yemen, with thousands of casualties every single month.

But historically, Islamic internecine warfare has nothing on Christian internecine warfare. Just go back a few hundred years. Consider the Beziers massacre of 10,000 to 20,000 Albigensian heretics in 1209 by a crusader army commanded by papal legate Arnaud Amalric. Justifying the mass murder of helpless prisoners, Amalric famously said, “Kill them all. God will recognize his own.”

Then go forward just over 400 years to the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) for religiously motivated (Catholic vs. Protestant)  murder and mayhem on a mass scale. Then if you add in all of the nonreligiously motivated internecine warfare between Christian nations (Hundred Years War, U.S. Civil War, World War I, World War II, etc.), Christianity “wins” this one going away.

Subjugation of Women

The situation of women is unquestionably worse in Islamic lands than Christian lands. In some Islamic countries, the barbaric practices of female genital mutilation and child marriage are still very common, with the number of victims up in the tens, probably hundreds of millions. In far more Islamic countries, women are still very much second class citizens. Their testimony in court is accorded less weight than that of men, Islamic fanatics seek (sometimes successfully) to deny them education, they’re forced to wear head-to-toe coverings, they’re forced into arranged marriages, and “honor” killings are common and culturally accepted.

In the West, women still earn less than men, face street harassment and domestic violence, face a glass ceiling in employment, and rape is still a major and under-acknowledged problem. Go back a few hundred years, and you’ll find religiously inspired witch burnings all over Europe. And nearer to the present, denial of property rights, denial of the rights to contraception and abortion, and systematic denial of employment in many, many professions.

But bad as all this is, the situation of women in Islamic countries has been and is far worse than in Western lands. Islam “wins” here.

Persecution of Nonbelievers

In Islamic countries, it is simply unsafe (often deathly unsafe) for Muslims to abandon Islam. Many of their fellow Muslims will feel completely justified in murdering those who abandon the faith, and far more will condone such killings. Going beyond this, as the Charlies Hebdo atrocity in Paris demonstrates, Islamists feel entirely justified in murdering nonbelievers who were never Muslims, simply for criticizing Islam. And it’s not just unofficial Islamic thugs doing the killing. In Saudi Arabia, it’s a capital offense to be an atheist or an apostate, and the Saudi authorities are notorious for imprisoning and brutally whipping atheists and apostates, and threatening them with execution.

In the Western countries, it’s been several hundred years since the torture and murder of apostates and heretics was commonplace. There are still unconstitutional laws on the books in several U.S. states denying atheists the right to hold elected office or serve on juries, and high-profile atheists are sometimes stalked and threatened, but the situation of nonbelievers in Muslim countries is undeniably far worse. Islam “wins” again.

In Sum

At present, there’s no denying that Islam, which Bill Maher calls “the mother lode of bad ideas,”  is worse than Christianity. But why should this be so? Consider the above: the worst examples of Islamic barbarism are current, and the worst examples of Christian barbarism are in the past, mostly centuries in the past.

What happened? In a word, science. In the West, science with its question-test-and-logically-analyze attitude has flourished and has eaten away at traditional religious beliefs. This has resulted in a good majority of “believers” being “cafeteria Christians” who pick and choose their “beliefs,” and reject those which are too ridiculous or too inhumane.  Hence the slow but fairly steady social progress over the last few centuries. This social evolution never happened in Muslim lands.

To put this another way, religions are toxic to the extent that their basic tents are toxic and to the extent that their members follow their teachings literally.

Many of the teachings in  the Bible are every bit as barbaric as those in the Koran. But a hell of a lot more Muslims than Christians take those teachings literally.

 


“Pity Canada. Its citizens watch the stages of U.S. decline and then, a few years later, inflict on themselves the same cruelties. . . .

“Canada is currently in the Barack Obama phase of self-immolation. Its prime minister, Justin Trudeau, is—as Obama was—a fresh face with no real political past or established beliefs, a brand. Trudeau excels, like Obama, French President Emmanuel Macron, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in empty symbolism. These ‘moderates’ spew progressive and inclusive rhetoric while facilitating social inequality, a loss of rights and the degradation of the environment by global corporations. They are actors in skillfully crafted corporate advertisements. . . .

“Lifestyle choices and expressions of personal identity are respected, even championed, while we are politically disempowered. The focus on multiculturalism and identity politics is anti-politics. It is accompanied by sterile reforms—such as more professionalized policing—that never challenge the underlying structures of corporate power . . .”

–Chris Hedges, “Behind the Mask of the ‘Moderates‘” on Truthdig


Arthur Schopenhauer

“Every miserable fool who has nothing at all of which he can be proud, adopts as a last resource pride in the nation to which he belongs;  he is ready and happy to defend all its faults tooth and nail, thus reimbursing himself for his own inferiority.”

–Arthur Schopenhauer, Aphorisms


American War by Omar El Akkad front cover(American War, by Omar El Akkad. Knopf, 2017, $26.95, 333 pp.)

reviewed by Zeke Teflon

 

In recent decades, dystopian novels have become nearly synonymous with science fiction. It´s easy enough to see why: climate change seems to be accelerating, some areas (e.g., the American Southwest, where I live) are already feeling severe effects from it, and the results worldwide in coming years promise to be catastrophic; we’re on the brink of a new dark age under the iron fist of religious totalitarians and their political co-conspirators; we’re well into a period of mass extinction; there’s runaway population growth actively encouraged by some of the “great” religions; modern weapons of mass destruction are far beyond “nightmarish”; technological advances are far outstripping social advances; and sadism and stupidity are running neck and neck as national hallmarks.

Given such conditions and such bleak prospects, it’s easy to see why dystopianism is the far-from-new normal in science fiction.

So, having heard next to nothing about American War, I was expecting a fairly standard take on the horrors to come, especially the ecological horrors. But  American War, which describes the “second civil war” (2074 – 2095), is a far from standard tale.

El Akkad deliberately (I’d bet the farm on this) sabotages the plausibility of his dystopia.

The first hint is the map in the front of the book showing the breakaway “Free Southern States” (FSS) of Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi as opposed to the rest of the U.S., with the Southwest mostly part of the “Mexican Protectorate.”

My reaction to the map was, “What the hell? Three poor, backwards states standing against the rest of the country? Holding on for 21 years?”

Very shortly into the text, El Akkad makes it very plain that he’s not projecting possible future developments in the United States, but is up to something quite different.

The reason for the FSS rebellion is the prohibition of use of petroleum products as fuels. Again, what the hell? None of the three states are significant oil producers; we’re rapidly approaching peak oil production; most new production in North America (shale, tar sands) is much more expensive than pumping from the old, rapidly depleting oil fields; and the cost of renewables is falling like a rock. This almost certainly means that oil will go up in price and will be rapidly displaced by cheaper renewables. The underlying premise is barely plausible now and will become increasingly implausible as time passes; it will make no sense at all six decades from now. So, El Akkad deliberately chose an extremely improbable background premise.

Then there’s a glaring–and I mean glaring–absence in the social structure of the FSS: racism. Racism disappearing from the American South in a mere sixty years, and during a time of upheaval and economic desperation? What the hell?! Who, if they thought about it, could possibly buy this?

So, just what is Akkad up to?

The first clue is the title of the book, “American War.” That seems a bit ambiguous, and why isn’t there even a vague reference to the “second civil war”? (It would be quite easy to add such a reference in a subtitle.)

The second clue is provided by the book description on the inside of the dust jacket:

Sarat Chestnut, born in Louisiana, is only six when the war breaks out in 2074. But even she knows that oil is outlawed, her home state is half underwater, and the unmanned drones that fill the sky are not there to protect her. A stubborn, undaunted and thick-skinned tomboy, she is soon pulled into the heart of secessionist country when the war reaches Louisiana and her family is forced into Camp Patience, a sprawling tent city for refugees. There she is befriended by a mysterious man who opens her eyes to the injustices around her and under whose tutelage she is transformed into a deadly instrument of revenge.

Fair enough, but the final sentence of the second paragraph on the inside flap reads, “It’s a novel that considers what might happen if the United States were to turn its devastating weapons upon itself.”

Close, but not right.

Above all, American War is about the present. (Tellingly, there’s no mention of any technology whatsoever beyond what’s currently available.)

American War is not about the effects of developing technologies; it’s not about an even remotely plausible future in the U.S.

It’s about the psychological effects of the type of war the United States has been waging sporadically for decades, and nonstop for the last 15 years, in the Near East, Middle East and Northern and Eastern Africa. It’s about what happens to people who are torn from their homes, are forced into miserable refugee camps, are under constant deadly and random threat from above, and are kidnapped, imprisoned without charge, and brutally tortured.

Shortly into the narrative, El Akkad reveals that the U.S. unmanned drones are solar powered, can stay aloft indefinitely, rained down destruction during the entire two-decades-plus of the war, and are uncontrolled, because Southern “terrorists” destroyed the “server farms” controlling the drones. This is beyond ridiculous on several counts, and again points to the very high likelihood that El Akkad deliberately made his background — in this particular, the drones — implausible.

Why would he do that? (Such apparent sloppiness is in stark contrast with Akkad’s adroitly drawn and developed characters and his skillful rendering of both action sequences and physical background.)

The point is that the drones are simply there as a constant threat, maiming and killing the innocent, seemingly at random. The point is the constant, year-in-year-out state of fear and anger suffered by those under threat.

The same holds for all of the other horrors El Akkad describes, and their woeful, ever worsening effects on the personalities, outlooks, and consequent actions of his characters, especially Sarat.

This story could be set in virtually any combat zone in any Muslim country. El Akkad set it in the U.S., using American characters, disguising it as a run-of-the-mill sci-fi dystopian tale, simply so that American readers will be able to relate to it on an emotional level.

There’s little point in saying more, except that if you want to understand the psychological roots of the hate and terrorism engendered by America’s foreign wars, American War is a good place to start.

This book is a masterpiece.

Very highly recommended.

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(Reviewer Zeke Teflon is the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia. He’s currently working on its sequel and an unrelated sci-fi novel. A large sample from Free Radicals, in pdf form, is available here.)

Free Radicals front cover

 

 

 

 


by Chaz Bufe, author of The American Heretic’s Dictionary

Religious fundamentalists  — all of them, Christian, Muslim, Mormon, Jewish, Hindu — are a threat to our freedoms, our families, our economic well-being, their own children, the environment, and human survival.

I’m not exaggerating.

This threat is not the result of particular religious beliefs; it results from the very nature of fundamentalism.

Virtually all fundamentalists have the following in common:

  • They place faith (belief without evidence) above reason (which along with observation forms the basis of science). As Martin Luther put it in his “Table Talk”: “Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has . . .”
  • They place their faith in ancient (Hindu, Jewish, Christian, Muslim) or modern (Mormon, Scientology) “holy” books and the cynical or simply delusional men who wrote them; they then place their faith in the founders’ interpreters and successors. Why? Because the books, their writers, and those who follow tell them the books and prophets are true.
  • They systemically engage in childhood religious indoctrination — an insidious form of child abuse — to spread their delusions to their children, who in turn will indoctrinate their children, who in turn . . . . . This results in generation after generation who disrespect and disregard rationality and evidence, and consider belief without evidence the highest virtue.
  • They place faith above family.
  • One of the primary, perhaps the primary, tenet of fundamentalists is that they must obey unconditionally, without question, the commands of their religion’s holy books and holy men. This makes fundamentalists very easy prey for manipulators, and very dangerous. They abdicate their decision-making responsibility and instead blindly follow orders, no matter how crazy or vicious.
  • They regard doubt as unholy, sinful, and, quite often, regard doubters as being in the grip of Satan.
  • They regard themselves as “the chosen,” “the elect,” “God’s people,” who by virtue of their shared delusions are better than the rest of us.
  • Worse, virtually all fundamentalists believe that they have the right, indeed the duty, to impose their religious beliefs on nonbelievers, through violence if necessary. And they’ll feel righteous while doing so.

Evidence of all these things is abundant. A few examples, from a near infinite number:

  • American “faith healer” cultists routinely allow their children to suffer horribly and, in some cases, die unnecessarily rather than allow medical science to save them. (For information on this problem see the site of Children’s Healthcare Is a Legal Duty [CHILD] and this article on them.)
  • One of the most horrible examples of childhood religious indoctrination is provided by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (and other groups of fundamentalist, polygamous Mormons), whose members follow the divine injunction to forcibly “marry” young girls (as young as 13 or 14) to much older men, who then rape them.  (See John Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven for sickening details, or just google FLDS.) The great majority of girls, who do not escape this nightmarish abuse, then give birth to broods who continue this unutterably vile, “divinely ordained,” form of indoctrination/sexual abuse, which not incidentally also involves widespread incest.
  • “Disconnection” from “apostates” is common among fundamentalist families. It’s widespread among Mormons, Muslims, the Ultra Orthodox, and it seems to be the rule among Scientologists.
  • Fundamentalists are easy prey for manipulators, for transparent charlatans. There are millions of American fundamentalists who send massive amounts of money to televangelists, including “prosperity gospel” hustlers who tell their viewers to send “seed money” to them, which will then return to them tenfold or a hundredfold.
  • This proneness to manipulation — this lack of a bullshit filter — has real-world consequences for the rest of us. Donald Trump, as transparent and grotesque a con man as has ever appeared on the American scene, received the votes of 81% of American fundamentalists in the 2016 election. Why? Why would they vote for this grossly immoral–by their own standards–disgrace to humanity? Because he told them what they wanted to hear.
  • Fundamentalists seem especially prone to persecuting nonbelievers. This takes its current most flagrant form in areas controlled by Islamic fundamentalists, with their floggings, torture, and beheadings of atheists and other infidels. This occurs not only in areas controlled by ISIS and Al-Qaeda, but also in countries controlled by Islamic fundamentalists, notably Iran and Saudi Arabia. Here in the West, there were anti-blasphemy laws (and resulting imprisonment) well up into the 19th and 20th centuries.
  • Fundamentalists also want to control the most intimate aspect of daily life, and the punishments they inflict on those who don’t comply with their moral dictates are often barbarous, not only in Islamic countries, but also in Christian fundamentalist countries — e.g., Uganda’s “kill the gays” law, inspired directly by American fundamentalists. Here in the U.S., fundamentalists (and conservative Catholics and Mormons) are the driving force behind attempts to restrict reproductive rights, and those same forces are in many states denying people the right to end their own lives, even when in intolerable pain.

They feel proud of all this; they feel virtuous about it; and they’re intent on forcing their perverted beliefs on the rest of us.

As Clay Fulks said nearly a century ago:

Having fundamentalists in a nation is like having congenital imbeciles in a family–it’s a calamity. Allow their mountebank, swindling leaders enough control over society and though religious faith would flourish fantastically, society would revert to the sheep-and-goat stage of culture . . . Wherefore it is perfectly irrelevant whether your fundamentalist is honest or utterly hypocritical in his religious beliefs . . . It just doesn’t matter. The question of his intellectual integrity will have to wait until he grows an intellect. In the meantime, however, what the forces of reaction are doing with him constitutes a continuing calamity.”

Christianity, A Continuing Calamity

 


(reposted with permission of the author, Alexey Kovalev; this originally appeared on medium.com)

A message to my doomed colleagues in the American media

Vladimir Putin’s annual news conference, Dec 23, 2016 / kremlin.ru

Congratulations, US media! You’ve just covered your first press conference of an authoritarian leader with a massive ego and a deep disdain for your trade and everything you hold dear. We in Russia have been doing it for 12 years now — with a short hiatus when our leader wasn’t technically our leader — so quite a few things during Donald Trump’s press conference rang my bells. Not just mine, in fact — read this excellent round-up in The Moscow Times.

Vladimir Putin’s annual pressers are supposed to be the media event of the year. They are normally held in late December, around Western Christmas time (we Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas two weeks later and it’s not a big deal, unlike New Year’s Eve). Which probably explains why Putin’s pressers don’t get much coverage outside of Russia, except in a relatively narrow niche of Russia-watchers. Putin’s pressers are televised live across all Russian TV channels, attended by all kinds of media — federal news agencies, small local publications and foreign reporters based in Moscow — and are supposed to overshadow every other event in Russia or abroad.

These things are carefully choreographed, typically last no less than four hours, and Putin always comes off as an omniscient and benevolent leader tending to a flock of unruly but adoring children. Given that Putin is probably a role model for Trump, it’s no surprise that he’s apparently taking a page from Putin’s playbook. I have some observations to share with my American colleagues. You’re in this for at least another four years, and you’ll be dealing with things Russian journalists have endured for almost two decades now. I’m talking about Putin here, but see if you can apply any of the below to your own leader.

  • Welcome to the era of bullshit.

Facts don’t matter. You can’t hurt this man with facts or reason. He’ll always outmaneuver you. He’ll always wriggle out of whatever carefully crafted verbal trap you lay for him. Whatever he says, you won’t be able to challenge him. He always comes with a bag of meaningless factoids (Putin likes to drown questions he doesn’t like in dull, unverifiable stats, figures and percentages), platitudes, false moral equivalences and straight, undiluted bullshit. He knows it’s a one-way communication, not an interview. You can’t follow up on your questions or challenge him. So he can throw whatever he wants at you in response, and you’ll just have to swallow it. Some journalists will try to preempt this by asking two questions at once, against the protests of their colleagues also vying for attention, but that also won’t work: he’ll answer the one he thinks is easier, and ignore the other. Others will use this opportunity to go on a long, rambling statement vaguely disguised as a question, but that’s also bad tactics. Non-questions invite non-answers. He’ll mock you for your nervous stuttering and if you’re raising a serious issue, respond with a vague, non-committal statement (“Mr President, what about these horrible human rights abuses in our country?” “Thank you, Miss. This is indeed a very serious issue. Everybody must respect the law. And by the way, don’t human rights abuses happen in other countries as well? Next question please”).

But your colleagues are there to help you, right? After all, you’re all in this together?

Wrong.

  • Don’t expect any camaraderie

These people are not your partners or brothers in arms. They are your rivals in a fiercely competitive, crashing market and right now the only currency in this market is whatever that man on the stage says. Whoever is lucky to ask a question and be the first to transmit the answer to the outside world wins. Don’t expect any solidarity or support from them. If your question is stonewalled/mocked down/ignored, don’t expect a rival publication to pick up the banner and follow up on your behalf. It’s in this man’s best interests to pit you against each other, fighting over artificial scarcities like room space, mic time or, of course, his attention. It’s getting especially absurd because some — increasingly many — reporters will now come with large, bright placards aimed at attracting the president’s attention to names of their regions or specific issues. This is what it looks like:

Also, some people in the room aren’t really there to ask questions.

  • Expect a lot of sycophancy and soft balls from your “colleagues”

A mainstay of Putin’s press conferences is, of course, softball questions. Which also happen to be Putin’s favorites. Mr President, is there love in your heart? Who you will be celebrating New Year’s Eve with? What’s your favorite food? “Questions” of this sort, sure to melt Putin’s heart, typically come from women working for small regional publications. A subtype of this is also statements-as-questions, but from people who really love the man on the stage and will bob their head and look at the stage adoringly and say something to the tune of “Mr President, do you agree that a lot of media are treating you unfairly?”

Another type of softball questions is hyperlocal issues that a president isn’t even supposed to be dealing with. Mr President, our road is full of potholes and local authorities aren’t doing anything about it. Mr President, our tap is leaking. Mr President, how about a chess club in our village. This is a real opportunity for him to shine. He will scold the local authorities and order to have a new road built. All of this, of course, has been choreographed well in advance.

Also, some of these people really love him and will meet his every answer with enthusiastic applause. There will be people from publications that exist for no other reason than heaping fawning praise on him and attacking his enemies. But there will also be one token critic who will be allowed to ask a “sharp” question, only to be drowned in a copious amount of bullshit, and the man on the stage will always be the winner (“See? I respect the media and free speech”).

  • You’re always losing

This man owns you. He understands perfectly well that he is the news. You can’t ignore him. You’re always playing by his rules — which he can change at any time without any notice. You can’t — in Putin’s case — campaign to vote him out of office. Your readership is dwindling because ad budgets are shrinking — while his ratings are soaring, and if you want to keep your publication afloat, you’ll have to report on everything that man says as soon as he says it, without any analysis or fact-checking, because 1) his fans will not care if he lies to their faces; 2) while you’re busy picking his lies apart, he’ll spit out another mountain of bullshit and you’ll be buried under it.

I could go on and on, but I think at this point you see where this is heading. See if any of this rings any bells if you covered Trump’s presser or watched it online.

P.S. You’re welcome to repost/reblog/republish this if you like.

My name is Alexey Kovalev, I’m a Russian journalist and I’m writing about propaganda, fake news and Russian state media on noodleremover.news. It’s all in Russian, but here’s an example of what I’m doing in English. You can contact me at kovalever@gmail.com. I tweet as @Alexey__Kovalev.