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Ian Buruma en 'het betrekkelijk goedaardige imperialisme uit Washington' 47



In zijn toneelstuk A Touch of the Poet, waarvan het thema de geschiedenis van de VS karakteriseert, met haar hebzucht en macht ten koste van idealisme en moraliteit, laat de Amerikaanse toneelschrijver Eugene O’Neill zien hoe één van de hoofdpersonen, Con Melody, 

offers another example of desire under democracy; in this instance it expresses itself in the struggle for recognition and status in an environment without a fixed social order, where identity is not inherited but contrived out of manners, gestures, accent, looks, taste, wealth, possessions. At he basis of possession lurks power, the ability to compel others to give us what we want. The desire Melody believed he had a rightful claim to see fulfilled was position and prestige, which the individual can achieve only by commanding the recognition of others, 

aldus de Amerikaanse auteur en hoogleraar, wijlen John Patrick Diggins, die verwees naar ondermeer Alexis de Tocqueville, de Franse aristocraat, die al in eerste helft van de negentiende eeuw:

offered a perfect account of Melody’s predicament. Even in a democracy, Tocqueville was told, Americans are

‘are a thousand times more fond of nobility, of titles, of crosses, and of all the inconsequential distinctions of Europe than we are inn France. The greatest equality reigns here in the laws. It is even in appearance in the customs. But I tell you the Devil loses nothing by it. And the pride which cannot come out in public finds at the very bottom of the soul a fine corner in which to instill itself. We sometimes laugh heartily to ourselves at the way our acquaintances affect to link themselves to the families of Europe and at the industry in which they seize upon the smallest social distinctions to which they may attain.’

In the setting of democracy, human beings hardly regard all others as naturally equal, as Thomas Paine and some of the Enlightenment philosophers had assumed. Often seething with resentment, people see themselves as competing with one another in the name of freedom. In the historical era that O'Neill was writing about, America was witnessing the birth of middle-class democracy. People envied what appeared to be the fulfilled desires of those above and resisted the unfulfilled demands of those below. It would be a democratic culture without political authority, in which public opinion prevails and determines what people think and how politicians behave in response to such thoughts. Although aristocracy was based on pride, on what the individual thought of himself or herself, democracy would be based on vanity, on what the masses thought others were thinking and on the effects that human beings have on each other. O’Neill’s treatment of America brings together the ideas of two different thinkers, Tocqueville and Nietzsche. One saw an obsessive love for material pleasure producing anxiety and doubt, the other saw anxiety and doubt driving people toward ‘the petty distractions’ of material gratification. Both saw the reign of desire as the ‘sweet despotism’ of democracy. In O’Neill’s sequel to A Toch of the Poet, democratic American comes face to face with itself.

Wanneer nu mijn oude vriend Ian Buruma in zijn boek Theater of Cruelty. Art, film, and the Shadows of War (2014) met grote stelligheid verkondigt dat ‘[a] way to deal with our fearful fascination with power and cruelty and death is to act it out vicariously, in art,’ en dat ‘the art and drama that interest me most reveal something of what lies beneath the varnish of what we call civilized behavior,’ dan vrees ik dat ‘we’ opnieuw te maken hebben met een poseur, die met zijn middenklasse smaak en een forse dosis ‘vanity’ zich wil onderscheiden van het ‘gepeupel.’ Dit gekoketteer met de kunsten is begrijpelijk voor de lezer die Pierre Bourdieu's werk Distinction (2010) kent, waarin deze Franse socioloog uiteenzet hoe cultureel kapitaal -- net als economische vormen van kapitaal -- beschouwd moet worden als bezit dat toegang verleent tot de upper classes en dat van de ene aan de andere generatie wordt doorgegeven. 'And, just as there are mechanisms for converting one form of economic capital (property) into another (money), so there are mechanisms for converting cultural capital into economic capital, and back again,' zoals de Australische hoogleraar Tony Bennett samenvat in de introductie van de Engelse vertaling. Voor de streber onder de petite bourgeoisie geldt dat kunst prestige en een vorm van belegging is. Dit snobisme komt op de één of andere manier telkens weer terug in het werk van iemand die nietsontziend met alle middelen in de wereld vooruit wil komen. Welnu, om zijn 'urban elites' te behagen, beweert Buruma zonder enige reserve dat ‘most Americans feel freer than do most people in the world. And not without reason. The US is, in almost every respect, freer than any other place,’ terwijl de grootste Amerikaanse toneelschrijver van de twintigste eeuw, Eugene O’Neill zijn publiek laat zien dat 

at the end of the dream of liberty one becomes not free but enslaved to whatever  commands our desires, and desires are arbitrary in that the mind cannot determine what it wants. Desires are also socially generated, for under the conditions of democracy people desire only objects desired by others.

Op zijn beurt benadrukte Tocqueville ruim anderhalve eeuw geleden in Democracy in America dat de ‘American people,’ allereerst ‘a merchant people’ is, ‘That is to say that it is devoured by the thirst for riches, which brings in its train many hardly honorable passions, such as cupidity, fraud, and bad faith. Thus they appear to have but one single thought here, but one single purpose, that of getting rich.’ Het feit dat Buruma deze neurotische drijfveer verwart met vrijheid verraadt niet alleen dat hij weinig van de Amerikaanse, nu westerse cultuur, begrijpt, maar tevens dat hij net als Con Melody, bezeten strijdt ‘for recognition and status.’ Wat dit betreft is Buruma, net als Geert Mak en Bas Heijne, een schoolvoorbeeld van de motieven van de angstige, ambitieuze, en behaagzieke middenklasse. Bij mijn oude vriend Geert Mak manifesteert zich dit in beweringen als: 

Niemand die ooit een Amerikaanse verkiezingscampagne van nabij heeft meegemaakt… zal licht denken over het vitale karakter van de Amerikaanse democratie,

daarbij verzwijgend dat al meer dan een halve eeuw ruim 40 procent van de Amerikaanse kiesgerechtigden niet meer stemt tijdens de presidentsverkiezingen, een percentage dat nog hoger is tijdens de ‘midterm elections’ voor ondermeer het Congres, waarbij de meerderheid niet komt opdagen, en bij de laatste verkiezingen in 2014 slechts 36 procent zijn stem uitbracht. Maar de werkelijkheid weerhoudt ook Buruma niet om zijn publiek te verzekeren dat ‘we ons moeten voorbereiden op een tijd waarin we met weemoed terugkijken op het betrekkelijk goedaardige imperialisme uit Washington,’ terwijl op zijn beurt Bas Heijne -- die eveneens in de kleinburgerlijke middenklasse opgroeide, zonder enige schroom en eveneens onweersproken -- meent dat Amerika ‘in alle opzichten superieur’ is. Met een combinatie van arrogantie en onwetendheid tracht de middenklasse haar stempel op de wereld te drukken, en ook al wil de wereld dit niet dan nog vertelt opiniemaker Ian Buruma zijn publiek dat ‘we must share America's dirty work.’ Tegelijkertijd claimen de westerse mainstream-opiniemakers dat ‘wij’ — het door witte mannen gedomineerde bestel —  superieur zijn vanwege ‘onze democratie, onze variatie in ideeën, onze tolerantie, onze openheid tegenover andere culturen.’ Omdat de hectische ‘politiek-literaire elite’ in Nederland zich overal moet manifesteren, wil zij ‘aan de bak blijven,’ heeft zij nauwelijks de tijd om zich breed te oriënteren, en heeft al helemaal geen tijd om onze cultuur serieus te bestuderen. Wat mij telkens weer opvalt is hoe weinig dit milieu gelezen heeft, en hoe beperkt z’n interesses zijn. Zo beseft Buruma kennelijk nog steeds niet dat de onverzadigbare begeerte van de kapitalistische ‘vrije markt’  uiteindelijk een zelfvernietigende cultuur heeft gecreëerd. Terwijl toch al Tocqueville opmerkte:

No longer ideas, but interests only, form the links between men, and it would seem that human opinions were no more than a sort of mental dust open to the wind on every side and unable to come together and take shape.

De veronderstelling van de Verlichtingsideologen dat ‘people would conduct themselves according to their own interests and satisfactions’ en daardoor ‘political and religious authority would no longer be needed to command obedience,’ bleek al snel onjuist te zijn, omdat ‘interests could well be as fickle as opinion is fashionable.’ Tocqueville, en vóór hem de Britse filosofen John Locke en Adam Smith, hoopten dat de verlichte burger kritisch zou zijn en het gemeenschappelijk belang niet ondergeschikt zou maken aan irrationele hebzucht, en andere driften. Maar, zoals duidelijk is geworden, ‘if self-interest has no capacity for self-control, then it becomes “pernicious” (schadelijk. svh) and its practitioners “petty” (kleinzielig. svh) with envy and “debauched” (obsceen. svh) with desire.’ Het ontbreken van gematigdheid blijkt telkens weer in de columns van de mainstream-opiniemakers. Ondanks hun borstgeroffel over ‘onze democratie, onze variatie in ideeën, onze tolerantie, onze openheid,’ blijft eigenbelang het uitgangspunt van bijna al hun politieke betogen. De huidige cultuur kent geen gemeenschappelijk doel meer, de vervreemding heeft de maatschappij ontzield. Met betrekking tot de Amerikaanse ziel, schreef Tocqueville:

Whatever pains are taken to distract it from itself, it soon grows bored, restless, and anxious among the pleasures of he senses. If ever the thoughts of the great majority of mankind came to be concentrated solely in the search for material blessings, one can anticipate that there would be a colossal reaction in the souls of men.

Hoewel in de ogen van Buruma er slechts sprake is van ‘Tocqueville’s admiring account of American democracy in the 1830s,’ was diens kritiek op de Amerikaanse samenleving vlijmscherp, en worden ‘we’ nu geconfronteerd met datgene waarvoor hij, in het hierboven gegeven citaat, waarschuwde. ‘Liberal, capitalist democracy,’ zo formuleert Diggins het in zijn Desire Under Democracy, ‘reveals the human condition in all its alienated longing. With this perspective, Alexis de Tocqueville, Eugene O’Neill, and Karl Marx are all in agreement.’ Het gefixeerd zijn op geld en bezit leidt ertoe dat mensen zich in zichzelf terugtrekken, 'in pursuit of the petty and banal pleasures with which they glut (oververzadigen. svh) their souls,’ aldus Tocqueville. Zo ontwikkelde de VS ‘a property-obsessed culture,’ waarin, aldus Diggins, 

wealth conferred status and power. But the working classes of the era resented rich elites and made a distinction between ‘producers’ and ‘parasites,’ those who created the wealth of the nation through labor and those who simply manipulated the money market. Such class antagonisms have led historians to regard Jacksonian (president Andrew Jackson, 1829-1837. svh) workers as posing an opposition to the rising ‘market revolution.’ Those laboring in the trenches refused to believe that an ascending capitalism and free enterprise made wealth the proper reward for industry. ‘Contrary to liberal ideology,’ writes one historian (Charles Sellers. svh) critical of the liberal consensus school of thought, which saw no conflict between labor and capital, ‘democracy was born in tension with capitalism, and not as its natural and legitimizing expression.’ The impression seems reinforced with Jackson’s famous (or infamous) vetoing of the rechartering of the Bank of the United States. Yet the popular support for that act only indicates that the masses hated banks but loved money; or, more specifically, opposed a central, national bank and welcomed its destruction so that its specie (geld. svh) would be relocated in local state banks where they could be better controlled by a democratic people. 

In zijn toneelstuk More Stately Mansions behandelt Eugene O’Neill het thema van de onverzadigbare zucht naar geld, naar macht, en de rol die dit speelt bij de hoofdrolspeelster Sara Hartford. Diggins:

Sara herself is a Jacksonian Democrat, and it is Sara who delights in bank failures so that she can buy them up as she boasts to cowering competitors, ‘I am strong, you are weak.’ Sara believes the rise of American business has returned humankind to the state of nature, where men and women have a claim to anything they can seize and hold, where might determines right. Here we are in the world of natural liberty rather than civil liberty, not submission to the rule of law but the assertion of the unlimited right to everything by anyone who succeeds in acquiring and holding. In the natural state raking  (schrapen. svh) and seizing as the first step toward ownership requires no justification, as indeed was the case when Georgia took possession of the land of the Cherokees and American itself went to war to claim the northern lands of Mexico — just doing what comes naturally. 

Het is nog verklaarbaar dat Tocqueville als een negentiende eeuwse man van de Verlichting hoopte dat een Sarah Hartford haar hebzucht zou beteugelen, en met het oog op een evenwichtige samenleving, haar eigenbelang werkelijk zou begrijpen door haar ‘civic responsibility’ te accepteren, maar het getuigt van een grote dosis irrationaliteit dat nu nog, na Auschwitz en Hiroshima, iemand als Ian Buruma het Vooruitgangsgeloof kan prediken. Die houding verraadt hoe blind een geloof iemand kan maken. Alsof O’Neill nooit bestaan heeft, niet geschreven heeft over ‘the soulless, materialistic damnation of America,’ die resulteerde in een uiterst gewelddadige geldmaatschappij met enkele schatrijken aan de top en een cultureel en financieel verpauperende massa daaronder. Het is precies dit gebrek aan ‘self-consciousness, of failing to know its identity and direction’ dat O’Neil als thema koos. Buruma’s veronderstelling 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’ onthult slechts hoe diep een spindoctor tenslotte in zijn eigen propaganda gaat geloven, en hoe weinig hij de Amerikaanse cultuur doorgrondt. Wie dit wel doet, is de voormalige New  York Times-correspondent Chris Hedges, die in de zomer van 2013 het volgende schreef:
   
The most prescient portrait of the American character and our ultimate fate as a species is found in Herman Melville’s ‘Moby Dick.’ Melville makes our murderous obsessions, our hubris, violent impulses, moral weakness and inevitable self-destruction visible in his chronicle of a whaling voyage. He is our foremost oracle. He is to us what William Shakespeare was to Elizabethan England or Fyodor Dostoyevsky to czarist Russia.

Our country is given shape in the form of the ship, the Pequod, named after the Indian tribe exterminated in 1638 by the Puritans and their Native American allies. The ship’s 30-man crew — there were 30 states in the Union when Melville wrote the novel — is a mixture of races and creeds. The object of the hunt is a massive white whale, Moby Dick, which, in a previous encounter, maimed the ship’s captain, Ahab, by biting off one of his legs. The self-destructive fury of the quest, much like that of the one we are on, assures the Pequod’s destruction. And those on the ship, on some level, know they are doomed — just as many of us know that a consumer culture based on corporate profit, limitless exploitation and the continued extraction of fossil fuels is doomed.

‘If I had been downright honest with myself,’ Ishmael (de enige overlevende van de ondergang van het schip, die het verhaal vertelt. svh) admits, ‘I would have seen very plainly in my heart that I did but half fancy being committed this way to so long a voyage, without once laying my eyes on the man who was to be the absolute dictator of it, so soon as the ship sailed out upon the open sea. But when a man suspects any wrong, it sometimes happens that if he be already involved in the matter, he insensibly strives to cover up his suspicions even from himself. And much this way it was with me. I said nothing, and tried to think nothing.’

We, like Ahab and his crew, rationalize madness. All calls for prudence, for halting the march toward environmental catastrophe, for sane limits on carbon emissions, are ignored or ridiculed. Even with the flashing red lights before us, the increased droughts, rapid melting of glaciers and Arctic ice, monster tornadoes, vast hurricanes, crop failures, floods, raging wildfires and soaring temperatures, we bow slavishly before hedonism and greed and the enticing illusion of limitless power, intelligence and prowess. We believe in the eternal wellspring of material progress. We are our own idols. Nothing will halt our voyage; it seems to us to have been decreed by natural law. ‘The path to my fixed purpose is laid with iron rails, whereon my soul is grooved to run,’ Ahab declares. We have surrendered our lives to corporate forces that ultimately serve systems of death. Microbes will inherit the earth.

In our decline, hatred becomes our primary lust, our highest form of patriotism and a form of eroticism. We are made supine (nalatig. svh) by hatred and fear. We deploy vast resources to hunt down jihadists and terrorists, real and phantom. We destroy our civil society in the name of a war on terror. We persecute those, from Julian Assange to Bradley Manning to Edward Snowden, who expose the dark machinations of power. We believe, because we have externalized evil, that we can purify the earth. We are blind to the evil within us. Melville’s description of Ahab is a description of the bankers, corporate boards, politicians, television personalities and generals who through the power of propaganda fill our heads with seductive images of glory and lust for wealth and power. We are consumed with self-induced obsessions that spur us toward self-annihilation.

Maar zelfs na de ondergang van de Pequod zal Buruma, zo vertelt hij ons, ‘met weemoed terugkijken op het betrekkelijk goedaardige imperialisme uit Washington,’ om de eenvoudige reden dat hij ‘waanzin rationaliseert.’ Hedges:

Ahab, as the historian Richard Slotkin points out in his book ‘Regeneration Through Violence,’ is ‘the true American hero, worthy to be captain of a ship whose “wood could only be American.”’ Melville offers us a vision, one that D.H. Lawrence later understood, of the inevitable fatality of white civilization brought about by our ceaseless lust for material progress, imperial expansion, white supremacy and exploitation of nature.

Melville, who had been a sailor on clipper ships and whalers, was keenly aware that the wealth of industrialized societies came from the exploited of the earth. ‘Yes; all these brave houses and flowery gardens came from the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans,’ Ishmael says of New England’s prosperity. ‘One and all, they were harpooned and dragged up hither from the bottom of the sea.’ All the authority figures on the ship are white men — Ahab, Starbuck, Flask and Stubb. The hard, dirty work, from harpooning to gutting the carcasses of the whales, is the task of the poor, mostly men of color.

Ahab, when he first appears on the quarterdeck after being in his cabin for the first few days of the voyage, holds up a doubloon, an extravagant gold coin, and promises it to the crew member who first spots the white whale. He knows that ‘the permanent constitutional condition of the manufactured man… is sordidness.’ And he plays to this sordidness (goorheid. svh). The whale becomes a commodity, a source of personal profit. A murderous greed, one that Starbuck denounces as ‘blasphemous,’ grips the crew. Ahab’s obsession infects the ship.

‘I see in him [Moby Dick] outrageous strength, with an inscrutable malice sinewing it,’ Ahab tells Starbuck. ‘That inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate; and be the white whale agent, or be the white whale principal, I will wreak that hate upon him. Talk not to me of blasphemy, man; I’d strike the sun if it insulted me.’

Het is deze bezetenheid die de anti-Rusland hetze van de westerse mainstream-pers mogelijk heeft gemaakt, en waarvoor de werkelijke bedreigingen van de mensheid hebben moeten wijken. In plaats van zich te focussen op de almaar toenemende problemen van de neoliberale ideologie, fixeren de westerse mainstream-opiniemakers zich, als in een roes, op de Russische Federatie als het vlees geworden Kwaad op de wereld. En zo trekken ze het publiek mee richting de afgrond. Hedges: 

Ahab conducts a dark Mass, a Eucharist of violence and blood, on the deck with the crew. He orders the men to circle around him. He makes them drink from a flagon that is passed from man to man, filled with draughts ‘hot as Satan’s hoof.’ Ahab tells the harpooners to cross their lances before him. The captain grasps the harpoons and anoints the ships’ harpooners — Queequeg, Tashtego and Daggoo — his ‘three pagan kinsmen.’ He orders them to detach the iron sections of their harpoons and fills the sockets ‘with the fiery waters from the pewter.’ 

‘Drink, ye harpooneers! Drink and swear, ye men that man the deathful whaleboat’s bow — Death to Moby Dick! God hunt us all, if we do not hunt Moby Dick to his death!’ 

And with the crew bonded to him in his infernal quest he knows that Starbuck is helpless ‘amid the general hurricane.’ ‘Starbuck now is mine,’ Ahab says, ‘cannot oppose me now, without rebellion.’ ‘The honest eye of Starbuck,’ Melville writes, ‘fell downright.’

The ship, described by Melville as a hearse, was painted black. It was adorned with gruesome trophies of the hunt, festooned with the huge teeth and bones of sperm whales. It was, Melville writes, a ‘cannibal of a craft, tricking herself forth in the chased bones of her enemies.’ The fires used to melt the whale blubber at night turned the Pequod into a ‘red hell.’ Our own raging fires, leaping up from our oil refineries and the explosions of our ordinance across the Middle East, bespeak our Stygian heart. And in our mad pursuit we ignore the suffering of others, just as Ahab does when he refuses to help the captain of a passing ship who is frantically searching for his son who has fallen overboard.

Ahab is described by Melville’s biographer Andrew Delbanco as ‘a suicidal charismatic who denounced as a blasphemer anyone who would deflect him from his purpose — an invention that shows no sign of becoming obsolete anytime soon.’ Ahab has not only the heated rhetoric of persuasion; he is master of a terrifying internal security force on the ship, the five ‘dusky phantoms that seemed fresh formed out of air.’ Ahab’s secret, private whale boat crew, which has a feral lust for blood, keeps the rest of the ship in abject submission. The art of propaganda and the use of brutal coercion, the mark of tyranny, define our lives just as they mark those on Melville’s ship. C.L.R. James, for this reason, describes ‘Moby Dick’ as ‘the biography of the last days of Adolf Hitler.’

And yet Ahab is no simple tyrant. Melville toward the end of the novel gives us two glimpses into the internal battle between Ahab’s maniacal hubris and his humanity. Ahab, too, has a yearning for love. He harbors regrets over his deformed life… Ahab’s thirst for dominance, vengeance and destruction, however, overpowers these faint regrets of lost love and thwarted compassion. Hatred wins. ‘What is it,’ Ahab finally asks, ‘what nameless, inscrutable, unearthly thing is it; what cozening, hidden lord and master, and cruel, remorseless emperor commands me; that against all natural lovings and longings, I so keep pushing, and crowding, and jamming myself on all the time.’ 

Melville knew that physical courage and moral courage are distinct. One can be brave on a whaling ship or a battlefield, yet a coward when called on to stand up to human evil… And so we plunge forward in our doomed quest to master the forces that will finally smite us. Those who see where we are going lack the fortitude to rebel. Mutiny was the only salvation for the Pequod’s crew. It is our only salvation. But moral cowardice turns us into hostages.

Moby Dick rams and sinks the Pequod. The waves swallow up Ahab and all who followed him, except one. A vortex formed by the ship’s descent collapses, ‘and the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago.’

Een ontwikkelde lezer beseft al snel dat de westerse opiniemakers niet bij machte zijn de werkelijkheid te beschrijven, maar dat hij daarvoor het werk van de grote schrijvers over het Westen, zoals onder andere Melville, Conrad, Fitzgerald, D.H. Lawrence, moet raadplegen. In zijn boek The Public in Peril (2018) zet de Amerikaanse cultuurcriticus en hoogleraar Henry A. Giroux de huidige situatie als volgt uiteen:

In the mainstream media, the endless and unapologetic proliferation of lies become fodder for higher ratings, informed by a suffocating pastiche of talking heads, all of whom surrender to 'the incontestable demands of quiet acceptance.' Politics has become spectacle, but not merely als Neil Gabler states, 'in the name of entertainment.' The framing mechanism that drives the mainstream media is a sink or swim individualism which accentuates and accelerates hostility, insults, and the politic of humiliation. As the discourse of the common good and compassion withers, the only vocabulary left is that of the bully. There is more at work here than a growing lack of civility in American politics...

Contemporary politics has dissolved into a pit of performative narcissism and pathology and testifies to the distinctive power of neoliberal, consumer, and celebrity culture as an influential educational force being used to reconfigure not just political discourse but the nature of power itself. Rather than expressing collective anger in the face of the 2008 Wall Street collapse, the ensuing political corruption, and the consolidation of wealth and power, millions of Americans turned to the politics of misdirected resentment...

The collapse of the United States into a updated form of authoritarianism has been reinforced, in part, by the strange intersection of consumer culture, manufactured ignorance, and the cult of unrestrained emotion. A tsunami of manufactured thoughtlessness has produced a new register of collective resentment, which as Mark Danner (Amerikaanse auteur. Professor of Journalism and English at UC Berkeley) points out, takes 'the shaand unrestricted health care where possible for everyone. pe of reality television politics.' [...]

Unfortunately, thinking undangerously cuts across ideological and political divides. For instance, there is a new kind of historical and social amnesia overtaking some elements of resistance in the United States. Many progressives have forgotten the lessons of earlier movements for real change extending from the anti-Vietnam War and Black Freedom movements to the radical feminist and gay rights movements of the sixties. These movements worked hard to make power visible, draw upon the resources of previous historical struggle — especially labor struggles -- wage ideological and pedagogical struggles that enabled people to develop alternative modes of critique and narrate their problems in systemic terms and connect a radical politics with the needs and issues people faced in their daily experience, such as offering free child care for parents, food programs for children, free early childhood education, and unrestricted health care where possible for everyone. 

Maar de politiek in dienst van de gemeenschap is verdwenen, en ervoor in de plaats is de zogeheten 'identity politics' gekomen, waarbij minderheidsgroepen alleen voor hun eigen deelbelang opkomen. Bijna een eeuw geleden schreef Lawrence in zijn essaybundel Studies in Classic American Literature (revised edition 1990) over het gebrek aan 'civility.' Daarvoor citeerde hij de zo bewonderde founding father Benjamin Franklin, die met een komisch bedoelt cynisme over Indianen had opgemerkt dat

if it be the design of Providence to extirpate these savages in order to make room for cultivators of the earth, it seems not improbable that rum may be the appointed means. It has already annihilated all the tribes who formerly inhabited the sea-coast.

In de ogen van opiniemaker Geert Mak, behoort Franklin tot de groep 'revolutionaire' grondleggers van de 'zelfstandige democratische republiek,' die volgens hem niet zou zijn gevormd 'rondom een bestaand machtssysteem,' maar kennelijk spontaan vanuit het niets ontstond, alsof zij zich van de geschiedenis had losgemaakt. Daarentegen was Lawrence veel realistischer toen hij als in reactie op de Amerikaanse genocidale politiek de onvermijdelijke vraag opwierp:

Rum plus Savage may equal a dead savage. But is a dead savage savage nought? Can you make a land virgin by killing off its aborigines?

Deze retorische vraag doet denken aan de waarschuwing van chief Seattle die de witte christelijke binnendringers ooit eens zou hebben gewaarschuwd dat:

[a]t night, when the streets of your cities and villages are silent, and you think them deserted, they will throng with the returning hosts that once filled them and still love this beautiful land. The white man will never be alone. Let him be just and deal kindly with my people. For the dead are not powerless. Dead, did I say? There is no death. Only a change of worlds.

Ook Lawrence besefte de kracht van wat karma genoemd kan worden, of, zo u wilt, de wet van oorzaak en gevolg. Hij stelde:

[t]hose that are pushed out of life in chagrin come back unappeased, for revenge. A curious thing about the Spirit of Place is the fact that no place exerts its full influence upon a new-comer until the old inhabitant is dead or absorbed. So America. While the Red Indian existed in fairly large numbers, the new colonials were in a great measure immune from the daimon, or demon, of America. The moment the last nuclei of Red life break up in America, then the white men will have to reckon with the full force of the demon on the continent. At present the demon of the place and the unappeased ghosts of the dead Indians act within the unconscious or under-conscious soul of the white American, causing the great American grouch, the Orestes-like frenzy of restlessness in the Yankee soul, the inner malaise which amounts almost to madness, sometimes.

Ruim drie decennia later wees John Steinbeck in een brief aan de voormalige presidentskandidaat Adlai Stevenson op de: ‘creeping, all pervading, nerve-gas of immorality which starts in the nursery and does not stop before it reaches the highest offices, both corporate and governmental,’ en zag de Nobelprijswinnaar overal rondom hem een ‘nervous restlessness, a hunger, a thirst, a yearning for something unknown – perhaps morality.’ Steinbeck had het over het gebrek aan ‘moraliteit,’ dat was ontstaan in een onverzadigbaar imperium waar de Europese kolonisten eeuwenlang miljoenen oorspronkelijke bewoners hadden beroofd en vermoord, om tenslotte de weinige overlevenden in reservaten op te sluiten en hun kinderen in speciale Indiaanse kostscholen waar hun bezielde cultuur werd vernietigd onder het motto 'kill the Indian and save the man.' Kenmerkend voor de ééndimensionale opvattingen van Mak cum suis is dat hij Steinbeck afdoet als een ‘doemdenker,’ die tijdens een lange reis voor de VS ‘voor het eerst ongenadig geconfronteerd [werd] met degene die hij in werkelijkheid was: een oudere man die zichzelf overschreeuwde, die zijn leeftijd niet kon accepteren, zijn jeugd niet kon loslaten.’ Daardoor worden Steinbeck’s profetische voorspellingen en diepe inzichten in Travels with Charle(1962) door Mak als een ‘mislukking’ gekwalificeerd. Wat deze Nederlandse opiniemaker ontgaat, is dat Steinbeck als auteur besefte dat niemand ongestraft zijn geweten kan negeren, en dat de mens oogst wat hij zaait, of zoals hij het formuleerde:

We can stand anything God and Nature can throw at us save only plenty. If I wanted to destroy a nation, I would give it too much and I would have it on its knees, miserable, greedy and sick… Someone has to reinspect our system and that soon. We can’t expect to raise our children to be good and honorable men when the city, the state, the government, the corporation all offer the highest rewards for chicanery and dishonesty. On all levels it is rigged, Adlai.

Het is algemeen bekend dat de mens zich mentaal niet kan ontwikkelen zonder de eigen misdaden te erkennen en verantwoording daarvoor af te leggen. De psychotherapeuten Martine Groen en Justine van Lawick stellen in hun studie Intieme Oorlog (2013) dat een langlopend conflict alleen kan worden opgelost als er een ontwikkeling doorlopen wordt

van schaamte naar schuld, naar bekennen en vervolgens naar boete, vergelding, vergeving en eventueel verzoening. De eerste stap is het benoemen van de vernederingen en de kwetsuren en de schaamte die daarmee gepaard gaat [...] Als dit is uitgesproken, helpt een schuldbekentenis om de schaamte te verminderen.

De dader en het slachtoffer zijn onlosmakelijk met elkaar verbonden geraakt, en wel omdat de dader zich vaak onbewust schaamt voor zijn/haar misdaden en het slachtoffer zich schaamt voor wat hem/haar is overkomen. Die schaamte manifesteert zich weer in woede en agressie, in een spiraal naar beneden, tot in het uiterste geval de dood erop volgt. De dader wordt als het ware gegijzeld door zijn eigen onvermogen de schaamte onder ogen te zien, en komt op die manier niet toe aan de schuldvraag. Dit is vooral zo problematisch omdat ‘schuld goed te maken [is],’ maar

bij schaamte is dat veel moeilijker. Bij deze emotie is sprake van een fundamenteel tekortschieten, en dat geeft een gevoel van falen, van niet toereikend zijn […] Het zelfbeeld wordt geschonden. Bij schaamte staat het zelf centraal dat veroordeeld wordt, bij schuld is het niet het zelf maar een daad die negatief beoordeeld wordt.

aldus Groen en Van Lawick. De misdaad is dus veel makkelijker te accepteren dan de schaamte erover. Hoewel beide psychotherapeuten huiselijk geweld beschrijven, gaat hun analyse ook op voor elk grootschalig conflict, waarbij in dit geval de witte binnendringer de rol van de dader speelt en de Indiaan de rol van slachtoffer. Doordat dit conflict al zoveel eeuwen bestaat:

there has been all the time, in the white American soul, a dual feeling about the Indian. First was Franklin's feeling, that a wise Providence no doubt intended the extirpation of these savages. Then came Crevecoeur's contradictory feeling about the noble Red Man and the innocent life of the wigwam. Now we hate to subscribe to Benjamin's belief in a Providence that wisely extirpates the Indian to make room for 'cultivators of the soil.' In Crevecoeur we meet a sentimental desire for the glorification of the savages. Absolutely sentimental,

aldus D.H. Lawrence die sprak van 

The desire to extirpate (uitroeien. svh) the Indian. And the contradictory desire to glorify him. Both are rampant still, today. The bulk of the white people who live in contact with the Indian today would like to see this Red brother exterminated; not only for the sake of grabbing his land, but because of the silent, invisible, but deadly hostility between the spirit of the two races. The minority of whites intellectualize the Red Man and laud him to the skies. But this minority of whites is mostly a high-brow minority with a big grouch against its own whiteness,

Lawrence wierp de vraag op:

how can any man be free without a soul of his own, that he believes in and won't sell at any price?

Het is zeker geen hypothetische vraag. Elke westerling die het merendeel van zijn tijd op aarde heeft verkocht aan een werkgever, zodat deze kon bepalen wat een ondergeschikte in de door hem gekochte tijd moet doen, tot de werknemer oud en versleten met pensioen mag, zal zich weleens die vraag hebben gesteld. Dit is de realiteit van ook de overgrote meerderheid in de VS, een imperialistische grootmacht die zich aanprijst als een ‘vrije democratie’ en die, volgens Geert Mak’s ideologische wereldbeeld, 'een begin van orde' bracht 'in de mondiale politiek en economie.' Het was de nonconformist D.H. Lawrence die de waarheid het dichtst benaderde toen hij zijn lezers eraan herinnerde dat

men are free when they are in a living homeland, not when they are straying and breaking away. Men are free when they are obeying some deep, inward voice of religious belief. Obeying from within. Men are free when they belong to a living, organic, believing community, active in fulfilling some unfulfilled, perhaps unrealized purpose. Not when they are escaping to some wild west. The most unfree souls go west, and shout of freedom. Men are freest when they are most unconscious of freedom. The shout is a rattling of chains, always was. Men are not free when they are doing just what they like. The moment you can do just what you like, there is nothing you care about doing. Men are only free when they are doing what the deepest self likes.

Terwijl de huidige Nederlandse hoofdredacteur van The New York Review of Books, Ian Buruma, nog in 2002 onder de kop ‘Why bashing the US is chic... in America,’ met grote stelligheid volhield dat de ‘US is, in almost every respect, freer than any other place’ op aarde, had al veertien jaar eerder de scherpzinnige Amerikaanse schrijfster Joan Didion in hetzelfde tijdschrift precies het tegenovergestelde geconstateerd: 

we are talking, increasingly, not about ‘the democratic process,’ or the general mechanism affording the citizens of a state a voice in its affairs, but the reverse: a mechanism seen as so specialized that access to it is correctly limited to its own professionals, to those who manage policy and those who report on it, to those who run the polls and those who quote them, to those who ask and those who answer the questions on the Sunday shows, to the media consultants, to the columnists, to the issues advisers, to those who give the off-the-record breakfasts and to those who attend them; to that handful of insiders who invent, year in and year out, the narrative of public life. ‘I didn’t realize you were a political junkie,’ Marty Kaplan, the former Washington Post reporter and Mondale speechwriter who is now married to Susan Estrich, the manager of the Dukakis campaign, said when I mentioned that I planned to write about the campaign; the assumption here, that the narrative should be not just written only by its own specialists but also legible only to its own specialists, is why, finally, an American presidential campaign raises questions that go so vertiginously to the heart of the structure.

Hoewel Buruma nog in 2017 suggereerde dat de VS een democratie was, door ondermeer te  verkondigen dat ‘Life After Pax Americana’ rampzalig zou zijn, zodat ‘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,’ benadrukte Didion bijna veertig jaar eerder: 

What strikes one most vividly about such a campaign is precisely its remoteness from the actual life of the country. The figures are well known, and suggest a national indifference usually construed, by those inside the process, as ignorance, or ‘apathy,’ in any case a defect not in themselves but in the clay they have been given to mold. Only slightly more than half of those eligible to vote in the United States did vote in the 1984 presidential election. An average 18.5 percent of what Nielsen Media Research calls the ‘television households’ in the United States tuned into network coverage of the 1988 Republican convention in New Orleans, meaning 81.5 percent did not. An average 20.2 percent of these ‘television households’ tuned into network coverage of the 1988 Democratic convention in Atlanta, meaning 79.8 percent did not.

In haar boek Political Fictions (2001) schreef Joan Didion al meteen in het eerste hoofdstuk:

It was clear for example in 1988 that the political process had already become perilously remote from the electorate it was meant to represent. It was also clear in 1988 that the decision of the two major parties to obscure any possible perceived distinction between themselves, and by so doing to narrow the contested ground to a handful of selected ‘target’ voters, had already imposed considerable strain on the basic principle of the democratic exercise, that of assuring the nation's citizens a voice in its affairs. It was also clear in 1988 that the rhetorical manipulation of resentment and anger designed to attract these target voters had reduced the nation's political dialogue to a level so dispiritingly low that its highest expression had come to be a pernicious nostalgia. Perhaps most strikingly of all, it was clear in 1988 that those inside the process had congealed into a permanent political class, the defining characteristic of which was its readiness to abandon those not inside the process. All of this was known. Yet by the time of the November 2000 presidential election and the onset of the thirty-six days that came to be known as ‘Florida,’ every aspect of what had been known in 1988 would again need to be rediscovered, the stone pushed up the hill one more time.

Maar bij gebrek aan kennis en aan intellectuele integriteit weet Buruma nog steeds van niets, en geldt voor hem absoluut niet dat al in 1988 ‘All of this was known,’ en doet hij het anno 2018 nog steeds voorkomen dat de VS een democratie is. Degenen die deze illusie niet delen en fundamentele kritiek hebben op deze ‘oligarchy with unlimited political bribery’ worden gelijkgeschakeld met vooroorlogse nationaal socialisten die de VS als de ‘kwaadaardigste en gevaarlijkste’ cultuur zien met haar  ‘materialisme’ waaraan ‘de westerse beschaving ten onder [zou] gaan.’ Uit zijn geëxalteerde reactie valt op te maken dat mijn oude vriend niet bekend is met het cultuurkritische werk van bijvoorbeeld Joan Didion, D.H. Lawrence, Herman Melville, Eugene O’Neill, Alexis de Tocqueville, en talloze andere grote geesten die zich met de VS hebben bezig gehouden. Opnieuw is het schokkend hoe zijn simplistische kijk op de wereld zelfs cultuurkritiek weet te politiseren. En dat nu juist deze oppervlakkige opiniemaker in de kunst ‘a way’ ziet ‘to deal with our fearful fascination with power and cruelty and death,’ is het toppunt van eigendunk. Immers, net als iedereen kan ook Ian Buruma niet verder kijken dan hij weet, en dit doet het ergste vrezen. Als een hamer het enige gereedschap is waarover je beschikt, ben je geneigd ieder probleem als een spijker te zien. Omdat de macht overal haar macht wil doen laten gelden, en nergens met haar vingers kan afblijven, moet nu ook ‘art’ in dienst komen te staan van de heersende ideologie. Meestal betekent dit het einde van een cultuur.   

De VS kan geen 'begin van orde' brengen, omdat de bewoners van het land niet in staat zijn zich te bevrijden van de ‘Amerikaanse Droom,’ de illusie dat het individu zich permanent kan vernieuwen door 'a gradual sloughing of the old skin, toward a new youth. It is the myth of Amerika,’ zoals Lawrence bijna een eeuw geleden vaststelde. Het probleem met mainstream opiniemakers is dat zij alles reduceren tot een politiek fenomeen, niet beseffend dat er buiten de politiek om een hele wereld bestaat. Wanneer Ian Buruma stelt dat ‘most Americans feel freer than do most people in the world. And not without reason,’ dan blijkt opnieuw dat hij een beperkte opvatting heeft over het begrip ‘vrijheid.’ Daarom opnieuw de auteur D.H. Lawrence:

Liberty in America has meant so far the breaking away from all dominion. The true liberty will only begin when Americans discover IT, and proceed possibly to fulfill IT. IT being the deepest whole self of man, the self in its wholeness, not idealistic halfness. […] We are free only so long as we obey. When we run counter, and think we will do as we like, we just flee around like Orestes pursued by the Eumenides.

Hoe kan een land dat volgens het tijdschrift Time van 5 maart 2018 gebukt gaat onder een 'opioid crisis' die 'the worst addiction epidemic' is 'in U.S. history' door Ian Buruma worden gekwalificeerd als 'in almost every respect, freer than any other place'? Het weekblad, dat het hele nummer gewijd heeft aan de 'epidemie' die het land teistert, bericht het volgende: 

It is hard to fathom, and bitterly ironic: the depth of the suffering caused by drugs whose ostensible purpose is to alleviate pain. Statistics offer a partial view of the wreckage. In 2016 alone, nearly 64,000 Americans died from drug overdoses — roughly as many as were lost in the entire Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined. The U.S. is the world’s richest country, and yet its life expectancy declined in both 2015 and 2016. More than 122 people die every day from syringes of heroin, gelcaps of fentanyl, an excess of oxycodone. Far more come close, but are revived by naloxone, a lifesaving antidote that has become nearly as critical to a cop’s job as handcuffs.

But numbers aren’t neighbors, and it is far too easy to become numb to their scale. We are in the midst of a national emergency that affects every state, every income group and virtually every age. While the burden has fallen disproportionately on the least-educated Americans, tens of millions of us are no more than one degree of separation from someone struggling with addiction. As Walter Bender, a deputy sheriffin Montgomery County, Ohio, put it, 'It reaches every part of society: blue collar, white collar, it reaches everybody.'

Pharmaceutical companies helped spark this epidemic by aggressively marketing opioids as low-risk solutions for long-term chronic pain. We now know that they’re anything but low-risk — and yet drugmakers have continued to push opioids and reward doctors who prescribe them. Attempts to crack down on prescriptions have helped, but Americans are still prescribed far more opioids than anyone else in the world — enough for almost every adult in the country to have their own bottle of pills.

Political efforts in Washington have also been insufficient. In October, the White House declared a public-health emergency but did not grant any additional money for the crisis. The position of drug czar remains unfilled, and a limit on Medicaid reimbursements for large facilities remains in place, though the President’s own opioid commission suggested that lifting it would be 'the single fastest way to increase treatment availability across the nation.'

This issue of TIME, the first in our 95-year history devoted to the work of a single photographer, is an effort to go beyond charts and policy. Over more than three decades, James Nachtwey has photographed war, famine and terror around the world for TIME. He was at the Twin Towers as they crumbled on Sept. 11 and in Baghdad as American tanks rolled in. His haunting images of withered bodies in Somalia put a spotlight on starvation there, helping save 1.5 million people. Nachtwey goes where others desperately try to flee, enduring gunfire and grenades out of the belief that the only way to stop the suffering is by bearing witness to it.


‘Heroin grabs ahold of you, and it won’t let go. It turned me into somebody I never thought I would be.’ chad colwell, 32, being revived by EMS workers after overdosing in his truck in Miamisburg, Ohio, on July 4, 2017. He says this, his fourth overdose, led him to seek treatment



De kapitalistische doctrine van de onmiddellijke bevrediging van alle mogelijke verlangens werkt zelfvernietigend. In een essay over het werk van Edgar Allan Poe merkte Lawrence op:

The root of all evil is that we all want this spiritual gratification, this flow, this apparent heightening of life, this knowledge, this valley of many-coloured grass, even grass and light prismatically decomposed, giving ecstasy. We want all this without resistance. We want it continually. And this is the root of all evil in us. 

Tegelijkertijd geldt dat ‘evil breeds evil, more and more.’ De VS is niet meer jong en nieuw en kan zeker niet 'weer het "gewone" land' worden 'dat het tot 1940' zou zijn geweest, zoals Geert Mak meent. In een essay over Herman Melville’s boek Typee and Omoo stelde Lawrence:

We can't go back, and Melville couldn't. Much as he hated the civilized humanity he knew. He couldn't go back to the savages; he wanted to, he tried to, and he couldn’t, aangezien ‘The truth of the matter is, one cannot go back. [...] Melville couldn't go back: and Gaugain couldn't really go back: and I know now that I could never go back. It is one's destiny inside one.

Het Amerikaanse idealisme van het zichzelf elke dag weer opnieuw uitvinden was vanaf het allereerste begin gedoemd te mislukken. Lawrence:

No men are so evil today as the idealists, and no women half so evil as your earnest women, who feels herself a power for good. It is inevitable. After a certain point, the ideal goes dead and rotten. The old ideal becomes in itself an impure thing of evil. Charity becomes pernicious, the spirit itself becomes foul. The meek are evil. The pure in heart have base, subtle revulsions: like Dostoevsky's ‘Idiot.’ The whole Sermon on the Mount becomes a litany of white vice.

Hier raken we het centrale probleem van de Buruma’s, Makken en de rest van de mainstream-opiniemakers. Vanuit hun ideologisch dan wel religieus bewustzijn blijken ze keer op keer niet bij machte de werkelijkheid te beschrijven. Zij komen niet verder dan een politieke reductie van de realiteit. Het echte ‘Amerika,’ waarover mijn oude vrienden de mond vol hebben, werd al meer dan 160 jaar geleden beschreven door Herman Melville in Moby Dick (1851), en het is deze roman die D.H. Lawrence, zelf een groot auteur, met de volgende woorden kwalificeerde:

it is a great book, a very great book, the greatest book of the sea ever written. It moves awe in the soul. The terrible fatality. Fatality. Doom. Doom! Doom! Doom! Something seems to whisper it in the very dark trees of America. Doom! Doom of what? Doom of our white day. We are doomed, doomed. And the doom is in America. The doom of our white day. Ah, well, if my day is doomed, and I am doomed with my day, it is something greater than I which dooms me, so I accept my doom as a sign of the greatness which is more than I am. Melville knew. He knew his race was doomed. His white soul, doomed. His great white epoch, doomed. Himself, doomed. The idealist, doomed. The spirit, doomed. The reversion. 'Not so much bound to any haven ahead, as rushing from all havens astern.' That great horror of ours! It is our civilization rushing from all havens astern. The last ghastly hunt. The White Whale. What then is Moby Dick? He is the deepest blood-being of the white race; he is our deepest blood-nature. And he is hunted, hunted, hunted by the maniacal fanaticism of our white mental consciousness. We want to hunt him down. To subject him to our will. And in this maniacal conscious hunt of ourselves we get dark races and pale to help us, red, yellow, and black, east and west, Quaker and fire-worshipper, we get them all to help us in this ghastly maniacal hunt which is our doom and our suicide.

Waar staan wij nu, anno 2018, terwijl de media een nieuwe wereldoorlog acceptabel maken,  meer dan anderhalve eeuw nadat

The Pequod went down. And the Pequod was the ship of the white American soul. She sank, taking with her negro and Indian and Polynesian, Asiatic and Quaker and good, businesslike Yankees and Ishmael: she sank all the lot of them?

Dat was het onvermijdelijke slot van de ‘Liberty in America,’ die in de praktijk ‘has meant so far the breaking away from all dominion.’ Het paradoxale is hier dat de Amerikaanse ‘liberty’ de ‘vrijheid’ van de niet-Amerikanen inperkt, en in vele gevallen zelfs vernietigt. D.H. Lawrence:

If the Great White Whale sank the ship of the Great White Soul in 1851, what's been happening ever since? Post-mortem effects, presumably.

En aldus zijn wij vandaag de dag getuige van de ineenstorting van het Amerikaans Imperium als één van die 'post-mortem effects.' Zoals de zaken er nu voorstaan dreigt de val van wat Buruma de ‘Pax Americana’ betitelt, gepaard te gaan met nog één wereldomvattende strijd, de laatste, want die oorlog zal tenslotte met kernwapens worden uitgevochten, zodra één van de kernmachten dreigt te verliezen. Het westers militair-industrieel complex bereidt zich al sinds de oprichting van de NAVO hierop voor, de politici zijn er klaar voor, en opiniemakers als Ian Buruma, Geert Mak, Bas Heijne maken, in navolging van de rest van de westerse pers, de geest van de massa rijp voor nog één grote veldslag tegen het vlees geworden Kwaad op Aarde. Deze zelfvernietigingsdrang is ontstaan uit ‘too much much anger and too many tears,’ als gevolg van het instorten van de ‘nervous reflexes,’ waarover F. Scott Fitzgerald al schreef. De westerling is uitgeput, verveeld, verward, gepijnigd; zijn zenuwgestel is door al het gedoe tot het uiterste geprikkeld. Dansen op de rand van de vulkaan. In zijn bundel The Crack-Up (1931), zijn afscheid van The Roaring Twenties, gevolgd door de Beurskrach en de Tweede Wereldoorlog, kwam Fitzgerald tot de slotsom:

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 than 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. 

Het besef dat er sprake is van een vernietigende leegte achter de Amerikaanse glitter bleef niet beperkt tot de grote Amerikaanse romanschrijvers. Zo schreef in 1970 de Amerikaanse socioloog Philip Slater in zijn studie Pursuit of Loneliness, volgens zelfs The New York Times 'a brilliant, sweeping and relevant critique of American culture':

One begins to sense a wide gap between the fantasies Americans live by and the realities they live in. Americans know from an early age how they're supposed to look when happy and what they're supposed to do or buy to be happy. But for some reason their fantasies are unrealizable and leave them disappointed and embittered…

The weaknesses of our society are tied to its strengths. The flexibility that individualism gives us, for example, is undermined by the delusions it encourages: that our fates are not intertwined, that our neighbor’s suffering will not ultimately rub off on us…

How you view the world affects how you treat it and hence how it reacts. Of you see your environment as a collection of separately-owned pieces of dead meat, it soon will be.  

Toch blijft de mainstream-pers de huidige roofbouw-cultuur verdedigen. De gelovigen in de voortdurende vooruitgang weigeren het tragische element van het bestaan onder ogen te zien. Zij blijven bidden en hopen dat met marginale veranderingen de diepe culturele crisis in het westen oplosbaar is. Zij reageren autistisch op de realiteit van alledag, zoals die beschreven wordt door ondermeer de Amerikaanse auteur Erik Reece in zijn boek Lost Mountain: A Year in the Vanishing Wilderness: Radical Strip Mining and the Devastation of Appalachia (2006). Hij constateerde dat:

[w]e are currently witnessing — and ignoring — the sixth great extinction since the advent of life on earth. This is not a hysterical cry of some druid; it is cold scientific fact.

Door het pathologische vooruitgangsgeloof verdwijnen er overal ter wereld talloze soorten in een tempo dat 1000 tot 10.000 keer sneller is dan vóór de industriële revolutie. ‘That is to say, roughly one species goes extinct every hour.' Als voorbeeld geeft Reece onder andere het volgende feit: 'of the 9,946 known bird species, 70 percent are declining in number.’ In de Proloog van haar boek The Sixth Extinction. An Unnatural History (2014) waarschuwt de Amerikaanse journaliste van The New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert:

Having discovered subterranean reserves of energy, humans begin to change the composition of the atmosphere. This, in turn, alters the climate and the chemistry of the oceans. Some plants and animals adjust by moving. They climb mountains and migrate toward the poles. But a great many — at first hundreds, then thousands, and finally perhaps millions — find themselves marooned. Extinction rates soar, and the texture of life changes.

No creature has ever altered life on the planet in this way before, and yet other, comparable events have occurred. Very, very occasionally in the distant past, the planet has undergone change so wrenching that the diversity of life has plummeted. Five of these ancient events were catastrophic enough that they're put in their own category: the so-called Big Five. In what seems like a fantastic coincidence, but is probably no coincidence at all, the history of these events is recovered just as people come to realize that they are causing another one. When it is still too early to say whether it will reach the proportions of the Big Five, it becomes known as the Sixth Extinction.

Dit is ‘The Legacy That We Are Leaving: The Extinction of Species.’ Maar omdat het individualisme, onlosmakelijk verbonden met conformisme, alleen rekening met zichzelf houdt, speelt slechts het heden een rol, geschiedenis en toekomst bestaan domweg niet meer. De oorspronkelijke impuls om de gemeenschap te beschermen, en het voortbestaan van de eigen soort veilig te stellen, is uitgewerkt; in het kapitalisme bestaat alleen nog maar het almaar uitdijende IK, temidden van de chaos en de vernietiging. ‘All the stories that came into my head,’ zo schreef Scott Fitzgerald 

had a touch of disaster in them — the lovely young creatures in my novels went to ruin, the diamand mountains of my stories blew up, my millionaires were as beautiful and damned as Thomas Hardy’s peasants. In fife 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.

Wat Eugene O’Neill zag als het Amerikaanse verlangen ‘to possess one’s soul by possessing the world,’ is uitgelopen op een permanente staat van oorlog met de mens en de natuur. De Amerikaanse ‘human, mom, photographer, journalist, activist’ Emma Fiala waarschuwde midden februari 2018 in verband hiermee:

School shootings are a symptom of a very large, very dangerous problem. They are not simply a symptom of a need for gun control, or a symptom of a lack of accessible mental health services, or a symptom of an over-medicated, desensitized youth population.

Our problem, a problem that has bled into every level of our society, is simple. We are a nation that does not value life.

This country was built on the genocide of its native inhabitants and not long after we bought and sold humans as if they were commodities. We have occupied nations and murdered their inhabitants for years. We have been at war with the idea of terror for SIXTEEN YEARS. And we wholeheartedly support a nation actively engaged in apartheid.

Each one of these things is woven into the fabric of our very beings. Each one of these things is connected to our identity as citizens of the United States. And each one of these things influences the actions of our nation today. On our own soil there continues to be a race and class struggle that results in the ruining of lives and actual loss of life. Halfway around the world our nation is responsible for the murder of innocent lives. Every single day children die at the hands of the United States or because of something our nation had its hands in. There is no ignoring this and there is no way to gloss it over.

The United States is DIRECTLY responsible for the deaths of over 4 million Muslims. Four million. Pause for a moment and let that number sit in your mind. Picture it and then try to picture 4 million people. Do you even know what 4 million people looks like? That’s the population of Los Angeles.

And who bats an eye? Hardly anyone. Collateral damage. Consequences. We make excuses daily. But every time we allow more death and destruction in our names, we allow that death and destruction to seep into the fabric of who we are.

The children who are dying at the hands of their classmates have lived in a world in which their nation has been at war for their entire lives. They see it on the news, they see television shows and movies that glorify the war on terror, and they play video games set in actual war zones. Most of us cannot even begin to imagine how this might influence development or perception of the world, reality, and understanding of the role we play the greater collective of humanity. They have grown up with a constant enemy, a constant vibration of unrest and violence in their universe.

De al eerder genoemde Amerikaanse auteur Chris Hedges wees in zijn boek Death Of The Liberal Class (2011) op het volgende aspect:

Populations will endure the repression of tyrants, as long as these rulers continue to manage and wield power effectively. But human history has demonstrated that once those in positions of power become redundant and impotent, yet insist on retaining the trappings and privileges of power, their subject populations will brutally discard them.

Such a fate awaits the liberal class, which insists on clinging to its positions of privilege while at the same time refusing to play its traditional role within the democratic state. The liberal class has become a useless and despised appendage of corporate power. And as corporate power pollutes and poisons the ecosystem and propels us into a world where there will be only masters and serfs, the liberal class, which serves no purpose in the new configuration, is being abandoned and discarded. The death of the liberal class means there is no check to a corporate apparatus designed to enrich a tiny elite and plunder the nation. An ineffectual liberal class means there is no hope, however remote, of a correction or a reversal. It ensures that the frustration and anger among the working and middle classes will find expression outside the confines of democratic institutions and the civilities of a liberal democracy. 

Maar ook dit ontgaat de liberal opiniemakers. Zij doen, net als de blote keizer in Anderson's sprookje alsof er geen buitenstaanders bestaan die door de schijn heen kunnen prikken. De zelfbenoemde ‘politiek-literaire elite’ hoeft ook geen kritiek te pareren, en wel omdat het incrowd wereldje de nonsens blijft accepteren. Hierin zal niet snel verandering komen.  Hoflands 'politiek-literaire elite' blijft in haar kleine kringetje rondcirkelen, blijft elkaar’s cliché’s herhalen. Met z’n allen functioneren zij als een echoput, tot uiteindelijk, zoals altijd, de geschiedenis hun voordeur in trapt, en het spel uit is. Belangrijk daarbij is te weten dat in de jaren vijftig van de vorige eeuw de Amerikaanse intellectueel Lionel Trilling in een kort artikel, getiteld ‘Tacitus Now,’ opperde dat ‘most American liberals,’ door het werk van de Romeinse geschiedenisschrijver Tacitus werden afgeschrikt, vanwege

the aristocratic color of his libertarian ideas. Another reason for our coolness to Tacitus is that until recently, our political experience gave us no ground to understand what he is talking about. Dictatorship and repression, spies and political informers, blood purges and treacherous dissension have not been part of our political tradition as they have been of Europe's. But Europe has now come very close to us, and our political education of the last decades fits us to understand the historian of imperial Rome. 

Trilling zag als één van de eersten de overeenkomsten tussen het imperiale Rome en de imperiale Verenigde Staten. De één een keizerrijk, de ander een oligarchie. In beide systemen dient de elite het belang van haar eigen kaste. De kracht van Tacitus is dat  ‘[i]n writing of political events his real interest is not in their political meaning but rather in what they tell us of the morale and morals of the nation,’ wat Trilling tot de conclusie voert dat, 

Tacitus’s conception of history was avowedly (onomwonden. svh) personal and moral. ‘This I regard as history’s highest function,’ he says, ‘to let no worthy action be uncommemorated (niet herdenken. svh), and to hold out the reprobation (afkeuring. svh) of posterity to evil words and deed.’ 

Dit nu is exact het onoverbrugbare verschil tussen degenen die geschiedenis schrijven en degenen die de waan van de dag dienen, tussen de grote denkers en de kleinburgerlijke media, degenen voor wie de waarheid het hoogste goed is, en degenen die het opportunisme dienen. Er bestaat een wereld van verschil tussen degenen voor wie de moraliteit van doorslaggevend belang is en degenen die uit eigenbelang lak hebben aan moraal. Tussen Tacitus en Ian Buruma, die Europeanen oproept een deel van het Amerikaanse ‘smerige werk’ uit te voeren. Het is ondenkbaar dat Tacitus zich ooit, net als Geert Mak, publiekelijk had afgevraagd of ‘wij, chroniqueurs van het heden en verleden, onze taak, het “uitbannen van onwaarheid,” serieus genoeg [nemen]? terwijl toch ‘[o]p dit moment op Europees en mondiaal niveau een misvorming van de werkelijkheid plaats[vindt] die grote consequenties heeft.’ Dat de huidige in Nederland geboren ‘chroniqueurs’ van de commerciële media van Mak te horen krijgen dat ‘[k]waliteit, empathie en courage, ja, dat hebben wij, als elite, in deze tijd nodig. Maar de grootste van deze drie is courage,’ spreekt boekdelen. Het demonstreert het gebrek aan moraliteit. Zodoende zijn zij niet bij machte hun eigen tijd te zien voor wat hij is. Trilling schreef over Tacitus:

His subject is not Rome at all, not Rome the political entity, but rather the grotesque career of the human spirit in a society which, if we may summarize the whole tendency of his thought, appeared to him to endure for no other purpose than to maintain the long and lively existence of anarchy. From this it is easy, and all too easy, to discover his relevance to us now,

met dit voorbehoud dat die ‘relevantie’ te zien is alleen door degene die beseft dat ‘virtue maintained in desperate circumstances,’ belangrijker is dan opportunisme of de gedachte dat ‘ik kan niet zonder hoop, Stan, dat klinkt misschien wat pathetisch, maar het is toch zo,’ zoals mijn oude vriend Geert Mak mij liet weten. Ooit schreef de heroïsche Scott Fitzgerald over een fictieve vrouw:

Driven, ordered, organized from without, she is a very useful individual — but her dominant idea and goal is freedom without responsibility, which is like gold without metal, spring without winter, youth without age, one of those maddening, coo-coo mirages of wild riches which make her a typical product of our generation.

Wat ontbreekt aan de opiniemakers van mijn generatie is zelfrespect, een noodzakelijk gevoel van waardigheid om te kunnen overleven in de chaos. Zij zijn even plat als de ééndimensionale ideologie die zij namens hun broodheren verspreiden,  niet in staat om de nooit veranderende macht en de onwrikbare natuurwetten te doorgronden. Wie op zoek is naar ‘hoop’ of naar een ideologisch ontsnapping aan de pijn van het leven, is niet op zoek naar de waarheid, maar naar verlossing. Zo is Geert Mak op zoek naar ‘een genadige God. Dat is heel belangrijk: een milde, liefdevolle God,’ terwijl Ian Buruma wanhopig op zoek is naar een verlossing via ‘verlichtingsidealen.’ De werkelijkheid speelt een ondergeschikte rol in hun 'virtual reality,' bijeen gehouden door 'perception management,' een begrip 'originated by the US military,' waarbij '[a]s usual, the mainstream media does not want you to understand what’s going on. Its goal is to shape perceptions and opinions by crafting a view of the world which serves powerful interests.'

De Makken en Buruma's en hun publiek willen verlost worden uit het tragische. Het geloof in een verlossing door het christendom of door de verlichtingsideologie staat diametraal tegenover het oud-Griekse tragische levensgevoel. De Amerikaanse dichter en vertaler van Griekse tragedies, wijlen Robert Fagles, schreef in de inleiding van Sophocles’ toneelstuk Oedipus the King dat: ‘Oedipus is at grips with the powers that watch us from the other side of death. They have spread for him, since the day of his birth, a trap and you are going to watch it snap shut,’ en dat ‘[n]othing mortal can resist the changes Time brings: not bodily strength, not friendship between man and man, still less between city and city. No man can be confident of the future; human confidence is based on total ignorance.’ Fagles zette uiteen dat:

[t]he catastrophe of the tragic hero thus becomes the catastrophe of the fifth-century man; all his furious energy and intellectual daring drive him on to this terrible discovery of his fundamental ignorance — he is not the measure of all things but the thing measured and found wanting.

Desondanks bezat Oedipus wel degelijk één vrijheid, te weten 

the freedom to search for the truth, the truth about the prophecies, about the gods, about himself. And of this freedom he makes full use. Against the advice and appeals of others, he pushes on, searching for the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. And in this search he shows all those great qualities that we admire in him — courage, intelligence, perseverance, the qualities that make human beings great. This freedom to search, and the heroic way in which Oedipus uses it, make the play not a picture of man’s utter feebleness caught in the toils of fate, but on the contrary, a heroic example of man’s dedication to the search of truth, the truth about himself. This is perhaps the only freedom, the play seems to say, but there could be none more noble.

Het zijn alleen de groten die het lot van de mens kunnen beschrijven, en zeker niet de opiniemakers van wat de ‘vrije pers’ heet te zijn. Alleen de literatuur doorstaat de tand des tijds; de journalistieke waan van de dag is morgen alweer vergeten of achterhaald. En met deze constatering sluit ik de serie af over Ian Buruma en zijn collega’s van de westerse mainstream-media. 




Reacties

  1. Dank voor deze serie, Stan. Zeer indrukwekkend, leerzaam, het goede voorbeeld gevend. De moeite van het lezen meer dan waard!

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