donderdag 7 december 2017

Ian Buruma en 'het betrekkelijk goedaardige imperialisme uit Washington' 32


Dinsdag 6 juni 2017 verkondigde Ian Buruma tegenover de wereldbevolking die Engels leest, en ‘The World’s Opinion Page’ van Project Syndicate onder ogen krijgt, dat

even if the end of Pax Americana does not result in military invasions, or world wars, we should ready ourselves for a time when we might recall the American Empire with fond nostalgia,

een waarschuwing die niet licht opgevat moet worden, al was het maar omdat mijn oude vriend spreekbuis is van de liberale c.q. neoliberale en neoconservatieve elite in Washington en op Wall Street die, zoals de kop van zijn column aangaf, zich zorgen begint te maken over ‘Life After Pax Americana.’ De altijd angstige middenklasse die zijn opinies volgt, moet voortdurend eraan herinnerd worden dat ‘the promised land’ het beste van alle werelden vertegenwoordigt. Zeker nu Buruma’s achterban getuige is van de ineenstorting van de ‘American Dream.’ Armoede is altijd een onmisbaar onderdeel geweest van het Amerikaanse kapitalisme; de angst ervoor is vanaf het begin de drijfveer geweest om hard te werken en in het gareel te blijven lopen. Toch werkt de mainstream-propaganda van iemand als Buruma niet langer meer optimaal. Paradoxaal genoeg merkt men dit allereerst aan hetgeen de modale opiniemaker beweert. Dinsdag 29 november 2016 stelde hij in The New York Times Magazine dat 

Tocqueville’s admiring account of American democracy in the 1830s is well known. Much less famous are his writings on Britain in the same period. Born soon after the French Revolution, Tocqueville was haunted by the question of why Britain, with its mighty aristocracy, was spared such an upheaval. Why did the British people not rebel? His answer was that the social system in Britain was just open enough to allow a person to hope that with hard work, ingenuity and luck, he could rise in society. The British version of the American dream: ‘The Great Gatsby’ may be the great American novel, but Gatsby could have existed in Britain too.

Kortom, de Britse klassenmaatschappij is even vrij als de Amerikaanse klassenmaatschappij. En juist daarom stelt Buruma dat ‘Gatsby could have existed in Britain too,’ waarbij hij er dus vanuit gaat dat The Great Gatsby een ode is aan de Amerikaanse consumptiecultuur. Ik vrees evenwel dat Ian B. alleen de geromantiseerde Hollywood-versie van dit literaire meesterwerk heeft gezien, en de roman zelf niet heeft gelezen, laat staan begrepen. Daarnaast heeft hij ook het oeuvre van Fitzgerald niet bestudeerd, anders had Buruma geweten dat de auteur in zijn essaybundel The Crack-Up (1931) had vermeld dat:

All the stories that came into my head had a touch of disaster in them — the lovely   young  creatures in my novels went to ruin, the diamond mountains of my short stories blew up, my millionaires were as beautiful and damned as Thomas Hardy’s peasants. In life these things hadn’t happened yet, but I was pretty sure living wasn’t the reckless, careless business these people thought — this generation just younger than me.

Dat Fitzgerald zich scherp bewust was van het grote verschil tussen ‘Britain’ en ‘America’ blijkt uit zijn notitieboekjes waarin hij onder andere uiteenzette dat 

In England, property begot a strong place sense, but Americans, restless and with shallow roots, needed fins and wings. There was even a recurrent idea in America about an education that would leave out history and the past, that should be a sort of equipment for aerial adventure, weighed down by none of the stowaways of inheritance or tradition.

Bovendien bestaat er een opvallende overeenkomst tussen Karl Marx's 'commodity fetishism' en de wijze waarop Fitzgerald de wereld portretteert in bijvoorbeeld zijn verhaal ‘The Diamond as Big as the Ritz.’  Marx definieerde dit fetisjisme aldus:

There is a definite social relation between men, that assumes, in their eyes, the fantastic form of a relation between things... In that world the productions of the human brain appear as independent beings endowed with life, and entering into relation both with one another and the human race... This I call the fetishism, which attaches itself to the products of labor.

Een jaar voordat The Great Gatsby verscheen verklaarde Fitzgerald dat hij een 'pessimist and a communist (with Nietzschean overtones)' was. Verschillende deskundigen hebben benadrukt dat er inderdaad een verband bestaat tussen Marx's en Fitzgerald's beeld van de wereld, aangezien:

The Diamond as Big as the Ritz’ by Scott F. Fitzgerald conveys the Marxist idea of commodity fetishism through the bizarre interactions of the Washington family with the victims that enter into their strange, diamond-clad world.

In tegenstelling tot wat opiniemaker Ian Buruma aanprijst als de ‘American dream,’ was de auteur Scott Fitzgerald's mens- en wereldbeeld veel sceptischer, subtieler en scherpzinniger: 

This is what I think now: that the natural state of the sentient adult is a qualified unhappiness. I think also that in an adult the desire to be finer in grain that you are, ‘a constant striving’ (as those people say who gain their bread by saying it) only adds to this unhappiness in the end — that end that comes to our youth and hope. My own happiness in the past often approached such an ecstasy that I could not share it even with the person dearest to me but had to walk it away in quiet streets and lanes with only fragments of it to distill into little lines in books — and I think that my happiness, or talent for self-delusion or what you will, was an exception. It was not the natural thing but the unnatural — unnatural as the Boom; and my recent experience parallels the wave of despair that swept the nation when the Boom was over.

Opnieuw is de ‘Boom’ voorbij, wederom heerst de ‘wanhoop’ onder de slachtoffers, alleen de sycofanten in de mainstream-media weigeren te beseffen dat het kapitalisme zijn contradicties niet kan overstijgen, tenminste niet zonder oorlog. In zijn roman 1984 kwam eveneens George Orwell tot de slotsom dat ‘[i]n the long run, a hierarchical society was only possible on a basis of poverty and ignorance.’ Immers, oorlog 

helps to preserve the special mental atmosphere that a hierarchical society needs. War, it will be seen, is now a purely internal affair. In the past, the ruling groups of all countries, although they might recognize their common interest and therefore limit the destructiveness of war, did fight against one another, and the victor always plundered the vanquished. In our own day they are not fighting against one another at all. The war is waged by each ruling group against its own subjects, and the object of the war is not to make or prevent conquests of territory, but to keep the structure of society intact. The very word ‘war,' therefore, has become misleading. It would probably be accurate to say that by becoming continuous war has ceased to exist. The peculiar pressure that it exerted on human beings between the Neolithic Age and the early twentieth century has disappeared and been replaced by something quite different. The effect would be much the same if the three super-states, instead of fighting one another, should agree to live in perpetual peace, each inviolate within its own boundaries. For in that case each would still be a self-contained universe, freed for ever from the sobering influence of external danger. A peace that was truly permanent would be the same as a permanent war. This — although the vast majority of Party members understand it only in a shallower sense - is the inner meaning of the Party slogan: War is Peace.

Dit verklaart waarom de mainstream-media nu de anti-Rusland propaganda van de Koude Oorlog hebben hervat. Zonder de door de media gecultiveerde angst voor  een vijand kan het militair-industrieel complex niet overleven en daardoor zou de huidige hiërarchie ineenstorten. Alleen een bedreiging van buitenaf kan de interne, hiërarchisch  opgebouwde, cohesie in stand houden. En dus voert ook Ian Buruma een hetze tegen de Russische Federatie, door te stellen dat deze grootmacht een ‘fusion’ is ‘of capitalist enterprise and political authoritarianism.’ Dat de regering in Moskou, inclusief president Poetin, gesteund wordt door een aanzienlijk groter deel van de Russische bevolking dan de regering in Washington door de Amerikaanse bevolking, is voor de huidige hoofdredacteur van The New York Review of Books geen argument. In zijn ogen blijft de VS een democratische staat, waar de burgers zich ‘vrijer’ voelen ‘than do most people in the world.’ Buruma meent dit ook echt, hij leeft in een bubbel van New Yorkse ‘liberals,’ die niet buiten hun milieu durven te treden, en daarom elkaars obsolete opinies herhalen. Een gebrek aan kennis en een bredere context, én empathie belemmert hen te zien wat zich voor hun ogen voltrekt, het einde van een tijdperk, of in de snijdende woorden van Fitzgerald: 

the pilgrimage eastward of the rare poisonous flower of his race was the end of the adventure which had started westward three hundred years ago… The frontiers were gone — there were no more barbarians. The short gallop of the last great race, the polyglot, the hated and the despised, the crass and scorned, had gone.

In Buruma’s manicheïsch simplisme is geen ruimte voor het complexe. Daardoor kan hij niet werkelijk begrijpen wat Scott Fitzgerald bedoelde, toen deze auteur in The Crack-Up schreef: 

the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise. This philosophy fitted on to my early adult life, when I saw the improbable, the implausible, often the ‘impossible,’ come true.

Ian Buruma’s zwart-wit beeld belet hem te beseffen dat kritiek op de politiek van de schatrijke Amerikaanse elite niet hetzelfde is als ‘anti-Amerikanisme,’ net zo min als hij kritiek op Israel kan scheiden van ‘anti-Semitisme.’ De kritische blik van bijvoorbeeld Tocqueville is een typerend voorbeeld van de wijze waarop zowel een Europese als Amerikaanse intellectueel naar de cultuur in de VS kan kijken. In zijn tweede deel van zijn boek Democracy in America (1840) behandelde de Franse aristocraat de ‘chief business’ van de Amerikaan, en waarschuwde in verband daarmee:

I readily admit that public tranquillity is a great good; but at the same time, I cannot forget that all nations have been enslaved by being kept in good order. Certainly, it is not to be inferred that nations ought to despise public tranquillity; but that state ought not to content them. A nation which asks nothing of its government but the maintenance of order is already a slave at heart — the slave of its own well-being, awaiting but the hand that will bind it.

By such a nation, the despotism of faction is not less to be dreaded than the despotism of an individual. When the bulk of the community are engrossed by private concerns, the smallest parties need not despair of getting the upper hand in public affairs. At such times, it is not rare to see upon the great stage of the world, as we see at our theaters, a multitude represented by a few players, who alone speak in the name of an absent or inattentive crowd: they alone are in action, whilst all others are stationary; they regulate everything by their own caprice; they change the laws, and tyrannize at will over the manners of the country; and then men wonder to see into how small a number of weak and worthless hands a great people may fall.

Anno 2017, 177 jaar nadat Toqueville’s woorden voor het eerst werden gepubliceerd, blijkt zijn beschrijving profetisch. De macht in de VS is in handen gevallen van ‘a few players’ die ‘regulate everything by their own caprice,’ de politieke elite in Washington en de financiële elite op Wall Street ‘change the laws, and tyrannize at will over the manners of the country,’ terwijl de verbijsterde massa zich ineens afvraagt hoe zij in handen is gevallen van een ‘weak and worthless’ groepje egoïsten. De fout die de burgers maken is dat zij — aldus Tocqueville — van de misvatting uitgingen 

that their chief business is to secure for themselves a government which will allow them to acquire the things they covet, and which will not debar them from the peaceful enjoyment of those possessions which they have already acquired.

Op die wijze was het Amerikaanse volk inderdaad ‘the slave of its own well-being, awaiting but the hand that will bind it.’ Vrijheid krijgt men nooit van de macht, die veroverd men op de macht, zoals de geschiedenis laat zien. En dit begint vandaag de dag met het ontmaskeren van het werk van de corrupte mainstream-journalisten en opiniemakers, die, gelijk de curie in de Middeleeuwen, de macht van de elite beschermen. Er bestaat geen wezenlijk verschil tussen toen en nu. In een brief aan zijn dochter Frances schreef  Scott Fitzgerald in 1940: 

You speak of how good your generation is, but I think they share with every generation since the Civil War in America the sense of being somehow about to inherit the earth. You've heard me say before that I think the faces of most American women over thirty are relief maps of petulant and bewildered unhappiness. 

Those debutante parties in New York are the rendezvous of a gang of professional idlers — parasites, pansies, failures, the silent type of sophomores, young customers' men from Wall Street and hangers-on. The very riff-raff of social New York who would exploit a child like Scottie(zijn dochter en enig kind. svh) with flattery and squeeze her out until she is a limp colorless rag. In one more year she can cope with them. In three more years it will be behind here. This year she is still puppy enough to be dazzled. She will be infinitely better off here with me than mixed up with that sort of people. I'd rather have an angry little girl on my hands for a few months than a broken neurotic for the rest of my life. But I don’t have to tell you this — you probably read the Life article on the dim-witted girl and the razz on her in the New Yorker. 

De grote Amerikaanse schrijver had het allemaal in de jaren twintig zien voorbijtrekken: de ‘bende professionele nietsnutten,’ die zo dicht mogelijk tegen de machtigen en rijken aankruipen en daardoor de status quo in stand houden. In zijn steun aan de elite toont Ian Buruma zich een provinciaal die voor het eerst in de metropool is gearriveerd, om als betoverd te reageren op al die lichten, het lawaai en de beroemde mensen. ‘Bright light, big city, gone to my baby's head.’ Wat hem en de rest van de ‘very riff-raff of social New York’ ontbreekt is empathie, ‘inlevingsvermogen, de kunde of vaardigheid om zich in te leven in de situatie en gevoelens van anderen.’ In zijn boek Creating Freedom. Power, Control And The Fight For Our Future (2017) beschrijft de Britse kunstenaar/filmmaker Raoul Martinez ‘empathie’ als volgt:   

We differ from each other in countless ways — height, weight, health, wealth and intelligence, aggression, kindness, courage and confidence but in one important respect we are all the same. Without exception, none of us is ultimately responsible for who we are or what we do. This perspective creates the possibility for a deep solidarity between human beings, one built on the understanding that, had I truly been in your situation, I would have done as you did. A profound equality emerges from this realization that provides a firm basis for compassion and empathy, two ideals that have infused the pages of this book. All systems of oppression and exploitation depend on the denial of this equality. Contrary to the fears some may have, learning to view ourselves more objectively does not undermine ethical standards or the capacity for love. It places them on firmer ground. 

For centuries, Western philosophers, politicians and economists have asserted that humans are essentially greedy, concerned primarily with their own preservation, pleasure and comfort. Neoclassical economists postulate that humans are rational and selfish, focused on the maximization of their own well-being, which is often defined in narrow, materialistic terms. This caricature does not fit the facts. Research across a range of disciplines has converged on a different conclusion: empathy, the capacity to 'step into another's shoes' and get a sense of how things look and feel from their perspective, is an integral part of what makes us human and is central to the practice of compassion. 

Child psychologists have observed that three-year-olds have the capacity to view things from another's perspective. At twelve months, infants seem able to empathize with the distress of others, offering them toys, stroking them when they look upset and helping strangers who appear to be struggling, even if they have to clamber over obstacles to do so. Quite automatically, our brains ‘mirror’ the brain states of others: the neurons that begin to fire when we encounter the emotions and actions of someone else are called 'mirror neurons'. Recent research suggests that they are part of a more complex 'circuit of empathy' comprising at least ten regions of the brain. This empathy circuit facilitates our understanding of the experiences of other people. Damage to these neurons seriously impairs empathetic potential. 

Primatologists have no doubt that our cousins on the evolutionary tree of life, the great apes, regularly display empathetic behavior.

Martinez, wiens boek door Brian Eno ‘stunning and lucid’ werd genoemd en door Russel Brand ‘a light to guide us onward’ voert onder andere Frans de Waal op, zoals bekend ‘one of the world’s leading primatologists,’ die van oordeel is dat er belangwekkend implicaties voortvloeien uit

our enriched understanding of human nature. Speaking of politicians who justify policies by claiming that nature is a selfish struggle for life, he states: 'They read into nature what they want to, and I feel it is my task to point out that they got it all wrong. There are many animals that survive through cooperation, and our own species in particular comes from a long line of ancestors dependent on each other. Empathy and solidarity are bred into us, so that our society's design ought to reflect this side of the human species, too.' The central role played by cooperation in the survival of our species is now widely accepted among biologists. 

Empathy is the ability to identify what someone else is feeling and thinking, and respond to them appropriately. The capacity for profound empathy and the compassion it engenders exist in almost everyone, but the degree to which we empathize is not fixed. Culture influences channels our potential for empathy. It can be stunted (belemmerd. svh) or constrained (beperkt. svh) by many factors, from ideology and early experiences, to genes, hormones and neurology. A serious lack of empathy makes it easy to treat people as less than human, to ignore their subjective inner world and see them as objects to be used for our own purposes. The interesting question is not whether we have the capacity to be empathetic, but why we extend our empathy to some groups and not others. 

Om ons te beperken tot het voorbeeld Ian Buruma, is de vraag relevant: waarom is deze mainstream-opiniemaker niet bij machte om enig begrip, laat staan empathie, op te brengen voor bijvoorbeeld Rusland en China, die hij, op grond van een leugen, als ‘mafia societies’ criminaliseert, terwijl hij tegelijkertijd de VS looft als een ‘empire’ waarnaar ‘we’ — nu het ineenstort — met ‘fond nostalgia’zullen terug verlangen? Ander voorbeeld: waarom kan mijn oude vriend geen enkel begrip, laat staan empathie, opbrengen voor de Arabische bevolking, die volgens hem lijdt aan een ‘anti-Western virus’ oftewel aan ‘the demonizing fantasies and stereotypes about the Western world that fuel such murderous hatred in others,’ terwijl hij wel empathie weet op te brengen voor de zelfbenoemde ‘Joodse staat’ Israel? Vanwaar zijn weerzin tegen het ‘populisme,’ terwijl hij als journalist wel begrip en empathie kan opbrengen voor de ‘liberal’ elite? Waarom ontbreekt hem ook maar een greintje empathie wanneer hij de gedupeerden van de gewelddadige Verlichtingsideologie onzichtbaar maakt door te spreken van ‘het betrekkelijk goedaardige imperialisme uit Washington,’ terwijl toch de VS miljoenen burgers elders tot slachtoffer heeft gemaakt? De ‘interesting question is’ inderdaad ‘not whether we have the capacity to be empathetic, but why we extend our empathy to some groups and not others.’ Raoul Martinez wijst in verband hiermee op het volgende:

One of the major findings from studies of extermination camps, as well as from controlled psychological experiments, is that, in Christie’s (criminoloog Nils Christie. svh) words, 'Distance makes killing and torture possible... Distance makes it possible to lose sight of the victim as an ordinary human being.’ This distance is not necessarily 'measured in yards or metres' — it may be 'of a social sort,’ and quite consciously inculcated (ingeprent. svh)

The way we relate to other groups and individuals is heavily influenced by how we categorise them. Our language abounds with labels that define and distinguish between people: believer/non-believer; illegal immigrant/citizen; criminal/victim; terrorist/civilian; patriot/traitor; black/white; man/woman. The categories go on and on and, depending on the prejudices that accompany them, our attitudes towards their members change dramatically. The neuroscience of dehumanization has demonstrated just how powerful the act of categorization can be. When exposed to stigmatized groups — such as homeless people and drug addicts — the region of the brain normally associated with considerate and social behavior is not activated. 

Dat wil zeggen: degenen die het beleid bepalen zijn niet in staat empathie op te brengen voor groepen mensen die in het huidige hoogtechnologische systeem overtollig zijn geworden, omdat hun werk of naar de lage-lonen-landen is verplaatst of is geautomatiseerd. En aangezien het aantal overtolligen — dus de burgers die niet meer nodig zijn om het systeem draaiende te houden — blijft toenemen, wordt dit probleem almaar urgenter. Zij worden nu door de machtigen in toenemende mate als een gevaar beschouwd. Wat moet een systeem, dat als belangrijkste geloofsartikel het maken van maximale winsten heeft, doen met  al die overtolligen, de economisch nuttelozen, degenen die hun arbeid kwijt zijn, de burgers waarop ook de liberals altijd al op neerkeken, en zeker vandaag de dag, nu een aanzienlijk deel van het gewone volk op Trump heeft gestemd, of op Wilders, of op Marine Le Pen, of op Viktor Orbán, of welke rechtse politicus dan ook die zich als alternatief opwerpt voor het huidige failliete systeem. Door het gebrek aan empathie bij de economische, financiële en politieke elite en haar spreekbuizen in de mainstream-media zijn de overtolligen uit het systeem verbannen, zonder dat er rekening werd en wordt gehouden met de vraag wat deze burgers nu moeten gaan doen. In elk geval wordt van hen verwacht dat zij hun mond houden en het corrupte systeem blijven steunen door eens in de vier jaar op een gecorrumpeerde beroepspoliticus te stemmen. De haat en minachting die het ancien regime en zijn ‘vrije pers’ elke dag weer toont voor de westerse slachtoffers, de eigen uitgerangeerde burgers dus, is verbijsterend. Het gebrek aan inlevingsvermogen is beschamend. De in letterlijke zin asociale mentaliteit van de Buruma’s is vergelijkbaar met die van de plantage-eigenaren ten tijde van de slavernij. De slachtoffers zijn voor hen onzichtbaar, gezichtsloos. Raoul Martinez:

The categories in which we place people reflect a hierarchy of human value. The philosopher Peter Singer (Australische filosoof en hoogleraar bio-ethiek aan Princeton. svh) uses the term 'moral circle' to describe how we place some beings in a privileged category — worthy of our full moral concern — and others outside it. Those within the circle of altruism become part of our moral community and, with respect to them, preferential principles of fairness, conduct, respect, resource allocation and justice apply. The smaller our moral circle, the more people are excluded from it. Those who don't make the cut are  are judged unworthy of the same level of concern, in which case a different ethical code applies. 

It is useful to think not of a single moral circle but a series of concentric circles, bounding zones of moral concern. The further someone is from the epicentre of these circles, the less deserving of humane treatment they are judged to be.  In extreme cases, certain categories of people are judged to be sub-human. Research into mor categories of people are judged to be sub-human. Research into moral exclusion suggests that humanizing privileged 'in-groups' while dehumanizing ‘out-groups’ is a ubiquitous (alomtegenwoordige. svh)  phenomenon. 

Een voorbeeld hiervan geeft Ian Buruma in NRC Handelsblad van 10 november 2017. Onder de kop ‘Snoer mij de mond, smeekt de rechtse populist, dan win ik’ stelde hij:

Rechtse populisten hebben één ding met elkaar gemeen: een uitgesproken vorm van zelfmedelijden; het idee dat zij het slachtoffer zijn van de linkse media, academici, intellectuelen, ‘experts,’ kortom van de zogenaamde elites…

Status wekt tegenwoordig in rancuneuze kringen meer jaloezie en wrok dan rijkdom of faam…

Tot voor kort hadden extreem-rechtse figuren überhaupt geen prestige. Zij opereerden in de marge van samenlevingen waar de herinneringen aan nazi’s en fascisten nog levendig waren. Er kleefde aan dergelijke mannen (eigenlijk altijd mannen) een ranzige lucht van morsige regenjassen in pornobioscopen. Steve Bannon, de geruchtmakende adviseur van Trump, is nog een beetje zo iemand, groezelig, ongeschoren, bijna haveloos.

Sleutelwoorden zijn hier: ‘zelfmedelijden, rancuneuze, jaloezie, wrok, extreem-rechtse, geen prestige, marge, nazi’s, fascisten, ranzige, morsige, pornobioscopen, groezelig, ongeschoren, bijna haveloos.’ Kortom, hier wordt de tegenstander gedemoniseerd en gecriminaliseerd, en deels op zijn uiterlijk veroordeeld, in feite precies zoals in het interbellum joden werden geportretteerd in Der Stürmer van de nazi-propagandist Julius Streicher, namelijk als ‘ranzig, groezelig, ongeschoren’ tuig dat in de ‘marge’ van de samenleving rondscharrelde. Net als Streicher stigmatiseert Buruma mensen die onderdeel zijn van onze samenleving, en ik doel daarbij niet alleen op de ‘populisten’ zelf, maar op de vele miljoenen burgers die in hun wanhoop op hen stemmen, een aanzienlijk deel van de westerse bevolking, die inderdaad even weinig ‘prestige’ genieten als de joden destijds enige ‘prestige’ genoten onder de toenmalige elite van nazi-Duitsland. Martinez wijst er in zijn hoofdstuk ‘Empathy’ niet voor niets op dat ‘[t]he categories in which we place people reflect a hierarchy of human value,’ om daar aan toe te voegen:

Immigrants, foreigners, the poor, the working class, women, the unemployed, the disabled, the obese, the young, the old and prisoners are routinely described in derogatory terms that chip away at their status as human beings worthy of our full moral concern. Racism, sexism and classism are all ways of defining the boundaries of our moral circles in order to keep some people firmly out. Moral exclusion can run in both directions, however: the oppressed can dehumanize their oppressors as much as their oppressors can dehumanize them — the crucial difference being the power each group has to turn prejudice into persecution. 

Buruma’s ‘classism,’ zijn obsessief klassenbewustzijn, erfde hij van zowel zijn ‘assimilated Jewish family’ van moederskant, die ondanks de assimilatie ‘had to have a bigger Christmas tree than the goyim to show that one was better, in a way,’  als van het kleinburgerlijke Friese predikanten-milieu waaruit zijn vader stamde. Als er iets door Ian B. verzwegen wordt dan is het wel het klassenvraagstuk, zijn angst niet  mee te tellen, en dat hij de goyim’ moet blijven ‘tonen’ dat hij ‘better’ is ‘in a way,’ of dat hij, net als zijn grootvader van vaderskant, te arm zal zijn om zijn kinderen te laten studeren. Alleen een diepgewortelde angst, mede gebaseerd op een minderwaardigheidscomplex, kan zijn haat en minachting, en zijn gebrek aan empathie, verklaren voor de ‘populisten’ en hun achterban. Zij herinneren hem aan zowel zijn ‘assimilated Jewish family’ van moederskant met die ‘bigger Christmas tree than the goyim,’ als aan zijn nouveau riche vader die na de oorlog ‘opnieuw de vernederende riten van de ontgroening [onderging],’ om mar toch bij het studentencorps te kunnen behoren. Ook zijn zoon Ian kan zich niet losmaken van pogingen de Ander te ‘vernederen.' Over de huidige Amerikaanse president, de risee van de ‘liberals,’ schreef hij:  

Trump, too, wants everything bearing his name to be bigger and shinier than everything else… he, too, appears to seethe with resentment against the elites who might look down on him as an uncouth arriviste, with his absurd golden skyscrapers and rococo mansions full of gilded chairs and massive chandeliers.

Buruma herkent het. Hij walgde ervan. Dat zijn vader zich conformeerde aan de terreur van de ‘sadistische’ vernederingen vond hij, volgens eigen zeggen, ‘verbijsterend.’ En toch doet hij hetzelfde, want met de poging anderen te vernederen, vernedert hij zichzelf, als een ‘uncouth arriviste,’ die publiekelijk degenen die er niet echt bijhoren te minachten, en wel omdat zij geen ‘prestige’ bezitten in kringen van het ancien regime. Oftewel in Buruma’s woorden: 

Influence, however, is not the same thing as prestige. The great newspapers, like the great universities, still enjoy a higher status than the more popular press, and the same goes for higher learning. The Sun or Bild lack the esteem of the Financial Times or the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, and evangelical colleges in rural parts of the US cannot compete in terms of cachet with Harvard or Yale.

Social status arouses more envy and resentment in our populist age than money or fame do.

Via deze afleidingsmanoeuvre tracht Buruma de terechte kritiek van de gedupeerden op het neoliberale beleid te omzeilen, en verwacht hij als knecht van de onverzadigbare elite ook zichzelf uit de wind te houden. Hij doet het voorkomen alsof het verzet slechts een kwestie is van ‘afgunst en wrok’ van degenen die geen ‘prestige’ bezitten, als ordinaire kinnesinne tegen de elite en haar hofhouding die ‘een hogere status’ bezitten. Het feit dat zelfs de oud-president van de VS, Jimmy Carter, ‘Amerika’ typeert als een ‘oligarchie met onbeperkte politieke omkoping’ wordt in Buruma’s propaganda verzwegen. Daar tegenover beweert hij met grote stelligheid dat de wereldbevolking straks ‘met weemoed’ zal ‘terugkijken op het betrekkelijk goedaardige imperialisme uit Washington.’ Zijn autisme belemmert hem empathie op te brengen voor de slachtoffers -- wereldwijd -- van het neoliberale systeem. In zijn boek The Essential Difference (2004)noemt de Britse psycholoog Simon Baron-Cohen deze pathologie ‘geestelijke blindheid,’ waardoor patiënten ‘cannot relate to the emotional lives of those with whom they live.’ Zij kunnen zich niet verplaatsen in de positie van de Ander. Tot op zekere hoogte is ook het klassenbewustzijn hiervan een voorbeeld, aangezien dit verschijnsel empathie tussen de verschillende standen verhindert, en regelmatig zelfs onmogelijk maakt. Op die manier wordt de Ander gedehumaniseerd. Raoul Martinez  

One of the important implications of research into dehumanization is that thinking of people in terms of good and bad, ethical and unethical, is too simplistic. Moral behavior isn't just a reflection of character; it's also an indication of the categories we impose on each other, and the prejudices that accompany them. You may be loving, caring and loyal to those within your oral circle, yet callous and brutal to those outside it. The suffering of those within our moral circle tugs at our heartstrings; that of outsiders does not. We are adept at compartmentalizing our morality. 

Vanuit dit besef gezien ontmaskeren de volgende kwalificaties Buruma’s houding ten opzichte van een aanzienlijk deel van zijn medemensen: ‘zelfmedelijden, rancuneuze, jaloezie, wrok, extreem-rechtse, geen prestige, marge, nazi’s, fascisten, ranzige, morsige, pornobioscopen, groezelig, ongeschoren, bijna haveloos.’ Zo probeert hij het politieke te depolitiseren. Eén van de lezers van Buruma’s column wees hem erop dat ‘[o]ften ordinary people feel they have little control over their own destiny and blame the liberal elites for dominating them "with an air of lofty disdain,"' het laatste overigens een kwalificatie van Buruma zelf. ‘Verheven minachting’ voor ‘gewone mensen,’ die zich machteloos voelen tegenover het onrecht dat hen is aangedaan. Maar ‘ordinary people,’ tellen domweg niet mee, zij vormen slechts het publiek. In zijn boek What Kind of Creatures Are We? (2015) zet de Amerikaanse geleerde Noam Chomsky aan de hand van citaten van de ‘guardian class’ van de Amerikaanse elite uiteen hoe de iconen van het ‘liberal’ establishment over ‘het volk’ denken, prominente intellectuelen als Walter Lippmann, Edward Bernays, Harold Lasswell, Samuel Huntington en al die anderen die ik hier al jaren citeer:

The public are ‘ignorant and meddlesome outsiders [who] must be put in their place.’ Decisions must be in hands of the ‘intelligent minority [of] responsible men,’ who must be protected ‘from the trampling and roar of the bewildered herd.’ The herd does have a function. Its task is to lend its weight every few years to a choice among the responsible men, but apart from that its function is to be ‘spectators, not participants in action.’ All for their own good. We should not succumb to ‘democratic dogmatisms about men being the best judges of their own interests.’ They are not. We are: we, the responsible men. Therefore attitudes and opinions must be shaped and controlled. We must ‘regiment the minds of men the way an army regiments their bodies.’ In particular, we must introduce better discipline into the institutions responsible for ‘the indoctrination of the young.’ If that is achieved, then it will be possible to avoid such dangerous periods as the 1960s, ‘the time of troubles’ in conventional elite discourse. We will be able to achieve more ‘moderation in democracy’ and return to better days as when ‘Truman had been able to govern the country with the cooperation of a relatively small number of Wall Street lawyers and bankers.’

De democratie van de Amerikaanse elite en haar woordvoerders in de commerciële media haat libertaire elementen, zoals uit de hierboven gegeven representatieve citaten blijkt. Hoewel de continuïteit van het anti-democratische sentiment van de elite niet te negeren is, zult u een opiniemaker als Ian Buruma hier nooit naar zien verwijzen. Daarvoor dient men toch het werk te lezen van Amerikaanse intellectuelen als Chomsky: 

This shriveled conception of democracy has solid roots. The founding fathers were much concerned about the hazards of democracy. In the debates of the Constitutional Convention, the main framer, James Madison, warned of these hazards. Naturally taking England as his model, he observed that ‘in England, at this day, if elections were open to all classes of people, the property of landed proprietors would be insecure. An agrarian law would soon take place,’ undermining the right to property. To ward off such injustice, ‘our government ought to secure the permanent interests of the country against innovation,’ arranging voting patterns and checks and balances so as ‘to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority,’ a prime task of decent government.

The threat of democracy took on still larger proportions because of the likely increase in ‘the proportion of those who will labor under all the hardships of life, and secretly sigh for a more equal distribution of its blessings,’ as Madison (slavenhouder, opsteller van Amerikaanse grondwet, vierde president van de VS. svh) anticipated. Perhaps influenced by Shays's Rebellion, he warned that ‘the equal laws of suffrage’ might in time shift power into their hands. ‘No agrarian attempts have yet been made in this Country,’ he continued, ‘but symptoms of a leveling spirit… have sufficiently appeared in a [sic] certain quarters to give warning of the future danger.’ For such reasons, Madison held that the Senate, the main seat of power in the constitutional system, ‘ought to come from and represent the wealth of the nation,’ the ‘more capable sett of men,’ and that other constraints on democratic rule should be instituted.

Madison's conundrum (probleem. svh) has continued to trouble government leaders. In 1958, for example, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles pondered the difficulties that the United States was facing in Latin America. He expressed his anxiety over the ability of domestic Communists ‘to get control of mass movements,’ which we ‘have no capacity to duplicate.’ Their advantage is that ‘the poor people are the ones they appeal to and they have always wanted to plunder the rich.’ We somehow cannot rally them to the understanding that government must ‘protect the minority of the opulent from the majority.’ That inability to get our message across regularly compels us to resort to violence, contrary to our noblest principles and much to our sincere regret.

To succeed in ‘framing a system which we wish to last for ages,’ Madison held, it would be necessary to ensure that rulers will be drawn from the opulent minority. It would then be possible ‘to secure the rights of property against the danger from an equality of universality of suffrage, vesting complicate power over property in hands without a share in it.’ The phrase ‘rights of property’ was regularly used to mean rights to property — that is, the rights of property owners. Many years later, in 1829, Madison reflected that those ‘without property, or the hope of acquiring it, cannot be expected to sympathize sufficiently with its rights, to be safe depositories of power over them.’ The solution was to ensure that society be fragmented, with limited public participation in the political arena, which is to be effectively in the hands of the wealthy and their agents. Scholarship generally agrees that ‘the Constitution was intrinsically an aristocratic document designed to check the democratic tendencies of the period,’ delivering power to a ‘better sort’ of people and excluding ‘those who were not rich, well born, or prominent from exercising political power.’

In Madison's defense, we should remember that he ‘was — to depths that we today are barely able to imagine — an eighteenth-century gentleman of honor.’ It was the ‘enlightened Statesman’ and ‘benevolent philosopher’ who, he anticipated, would hold the reins of power. Ideally ‘pure and noble,’ these ‘men of intelligence, patriotism, property and independent circumstances’ would be a ‘chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interests of their country, and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations.’ They would thus ‘refine’ and ‘enlarge’ the ‘public views,’ guarding the public interest against the ‘mischiefs’ of democratic majorities.

Not exactly the way it turned out.

The problem with democracy that Madison perceived had been recognized long before by Aristotle, in the first major work of political science: Politics. Reviewing a variety of political systems, he concluded that democracy was the best — or perhaps the least bad — but he recognized a flaw: the great mass of the poor could use their voting power to take the property of the rich, which would be unfair. Madison and Aristotle faced the same problem but selected opposite solutions: Aristotle advised reducing inequality, by what we would regard as welfare state measures; Madison felt that the answer was to reduce democracy.

The conflict between these conceptions of democracy goes back to the earliest modern democratic revolution, in seventeenth-century England, when a war raged between supporters of the king and of Parliament. The gentry, the ‘men of best quality’ as they called themselves, were appalled by the rabble who did not want to be ruled by king or Parliament, but rather ‘by countrymen like ourselves, that know our wants.’ Their pamphlets explained that ‘it will never be a good world while knights and gentlemen make us laws, that are chosen for fear and do but oppress us, and do not know the people's sores.’

The essential nature of the conflict, which has far from ended, was captured simply by Thomas Jefferson in his last years, when he had serious concerns about the quality and fate of the democratic experiment. He distinguished between ‘aristocrats and democrats.’ The aristocrats are ‘those who fear and distrust the people, and wish to draw all powers from them into the hands of the higher classes.’ The democrats, in contrast, ‘identify with the people, have confidence in them, cherish and consider them as the honest & safe, altho' not the most wise depository of the public interest.’

The modern progressive intellectuals who seek to ‘put the public in its place’ and are free of ‘democratic dogmatisms’ about the capacity of the ‘ignorant and meddlesome outsiders’ to enter the political arena are Jefferson's ‘aristocrats.’ Their basic views are widely held, though there are disputes about who should play the guiding role: ‘the technocratic and policy-oriented intellectuals’ of the progressive ‘knowledge society,’ or bankers and corporate executives. Or in other versions, the Central Committee, or the Guardian Council of clerics. All are instances of the ‘political guardianship’ that the genuine libertarian tradition seeks to dismantle and reconstruct from below, while also changing industry ‘from a feudalistic to a democratic social order’ based on workers' control, respecting the dignity of the producer as a genuine person, not a tool in the hands of others, in accordance with a libertarian tradition that has deep roots — and, like Marx's old mole, is always burrowing close to the surface, always ready to peek through, sometimes in surprising and unexpected ways, seeking to bring about what seems to me at least to be a reasonable approximation to the common good.

Waren de door Chomsky geciteerde Amerikaanse beleidsbepalers joden geweest dan had Ian Buruma hem beticht van anti-semitisme, maar de ironie hier is dat juist Noam Chomsky joods is, iemand die, aldus impliceert mijn oude vriend, niet ‘serieus’ genomen wordt door postmoderne opiniemakers als hijzelf, of zoals hij mij in een email schreef: ’Jouw ideeën komen eerder uit een wat ouderwetse Amerikaanse hoek, Chomsky, Zinn et al. die door een oudere generatie serieus werden genomen.’ Overigens had ook wijlen Howard Zinn een joodse achtergrond. Maar joden met progressieve opvattingen tellen bij Ian niet mee. Zijn kwalificatie van het joods zijn is — laten we zegen — instrumenteel, oftewel gekleurd door opportunisme. In elk geval toont Buruma door deze zelfontmaskering waar hij ideologisch en journalistiek staat. Terug naar Creating Freedom. Power, Control And The Fight For Our Future van Raoul Martinez, die terecht opmerkt dat:

Language reinforces psychological distance. From Nazi Germany to apartheid South Africa, labels that reduce people to the status of animals have been a standard way of justifying persecution. People are called ‘beasts,' ‘dogs,' 'pigs' or ‘parasites.' Employing the clinical language of hygiene takes this process further so that people become objects of revulsion: ‘filth,’ ‘scum’ or ‘trash’ that must be ‘cleansed’ and ‘eradicated.’ Jews in Nazi Germany were routinely described as 'rats' and ‘vermin.' In the Rwandan genocide, the terms 'lice' and 'cockroaches' were used. Bosnians in the Balkan wars suffered similar comparisons. 

The philosopher Jonathan Glover has identified degradation as a common feature of dehumanization. It is far easier to think of people as objects of revulsion if they are forced to live in conditions that provoke disgust. Confining people in dirty and humiliating conditions, be it a prison cell, concentration camp or just extreme poverty, makes it easier to treat them as sub-human,

oftewel, als iemand die, stinkend naar de ‘ranzige lucht van morsige regenjassen in pornobioscopen,’ toch ineens ‘salonfähig’ wordt. Overigens is het onthullend dat mijn oude vriend kennelijk weet dat in ‘pornobioscopen’ een ‘ranzige lucht van morsige regenjassen’ hangt. We mogen toch verwachten dat iemand die zichzelf ziet als woordvoerder van ‘the more sophisticated urban elites,’ eerder een goed boek zou lezen. Noblesse Oblige. Hoe dan ook, veel opmerkelijker nog is de stigmatisering van de politieke tegenstander als ‘scruffy’ en ‘unwashed,’ het veroordelen van anderen op hun uiterlijk, dat de indruk moet wekken dat zij, aldus Martinez, ‘different and inferior’ zijn. Met als resultaat dat het ‘a small jump’ is 

to assume they belong in the same category as diseases or dirty animals, and that they lack the higher faculties of civilized people. You don’t reason with an animal. You don’t enter into a dialogue with a disease.

Desondanks geeft onderzoek aan dat ‘what separates us from those whose actions we deplore is not innate moral superiority but circumstances — and not just circumstances that shape our character but the circumstances that determine our options.’ Zo is bekend dat ‘Dutch colonialism created the conditions for South African apartheid by systematically denying black South Africans fundamental rights and condemning them to humiliating and degrading conditions.’ 



Een ander voorbeeld: 

Daniel Bar-Tal from Tel-Aviv University has conducted research into he formation of attitudes and stereotypes among Jewish children in Israel, focusing specifically on the concept of 'Arab' because it is 'probably the most significant outgroup for Israeli Jews.’ He found that Israeli children begin to use the word ‘Arab’ between the ages of twenty-four and thirty months making it one of the first social categories they learn. When asked what they knew about Arabs, the majority of children described them as violent and aggressive. Children aged between five and six held more negative attitudes towards Arabs than younger children, and were more reluctant to entertain the possibility of social contact. These attitudes contrasted with their positive emotions towards ‘Jews.’ Bar-Tal's research led him to the broad conclusion that 'when Israeli children characterize Arabs, many of them use delegitimizing categories, mostly those of “killers” and “murderers.”’ Parents were thought to be the main source of their attitudes. According to Patricia G. Devine, a professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin, stereotypes 'are well established in children's memories before children develop the cognitive ability and flexibility to question or critically evaluate the stereotype's validity or acceptability.’ In 2015, it was reported that Israel had banned a novel that told the story of a romance between an Arab man and a Jewish woman. Reasons given for the ban included the fear that ‘young people of adolescent age don’t have the systemic view that includes considerations involving maintaining the national-ethnic identity of the people and the significance of miscegenation [the interbreeding of people believed to be of different races].’ The need to maintain ‘the identity  and heritage of students’ was asserted because ‘intimate relations between Jews and non-Jews threatens the separate identity’ cultivated by the Israeli state… For millennia, legal categories have been used to codify hierarchies race, religion, sexual orientation, political beliefs, class, wealth or ability — with more rights than others. The attributes used to isolate groups can be almost anything. Once a category has been imposed, people are segregated into the worthy and unworthy. The hierarchies are accompanied by evocative myths about the superiority of the in-group and the dangers of an out-group. Standing up to the outsiders is framed as an act of courage. Indeed, the dehumanization and persecution of the 'other' is often presented as a virtuous act — a demonstration of patriotism, solidarity and loyalty. 

Many slave owners believed their slaves did not possess a soul. Using le rule of law to advance the process of dehumanization, Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court Roger Brooke Taney declared in 1856 that the black man 'had no rights which the White man was bound to respect... the Negro might justly and lawfully be... treated as an ordinary article of merchandize and traffic.’ Dehumanization has always been fostered to concentrate power and justify violence. How can a country grow rich on slave labor of its population regards slaves as fully human? How can military leaders destroy native populations and establish new territories if those natives have equal rights? How can rich nations justify their hugely disproportionate consumption of the world's resources without implicitly believing in their own superiority? 

Dehumanization has long been wired into the systems that dominate the world. Capitalism has to foster moral exclusion to justify the extreme inequality it creates. States are fictional entities that methodically constrain empathy through the cultivation of patriotism. If we are to and reduce dehumanization in the world, we need to overcome the physical and psychological distance maintained by borders and bank balances. 

Met andere woorden: opvoeding, scholing — inclusief universitaire studies — en zeker de commerciële massamedia zullen soms ingrijpend moeten worden hervormd. Beweringen van opiniemakers als Ian Buruma dat het Westen al sinds Napoleon de Verlichtingsidealen in de praktijk brengt, moeten serieus worden bekritiseerd door een ieder die empathie bezit. Meer de volgende keer. 



Beide portretten zijn geschilderd door de hierboven geciteerde 34-jarige Raoul Martinez, die deze joods-Amerikaanse intellectuelen respecteert, maar die volgens de bejaarde Ian Buruma alleen nog 'door een oudere generatie serieus' worden 'genomen.'


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