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The Rhetoric of Violence

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Posted on Apr 20, 2014

By Chris Hedges

(Page 2)

America’s vigilante violence, rather than a protection from tyranny, is an expression of the fear by white people, especially white men, of the black underclass. This underclass has been enslaved, lynched, imprisoned and impoverished for centuries. The white vigilantes do not acknowledge the reality of this oppression, but at the same time they are deeply worried about retribution directed against whites. Guns, for this reason, are easily available to white people while gun ownership is largely criminalized for blacks. The hatred expressed by vigilante groups for people of color, along with Jews and Muslims, is matched by their hatred for the college-educated elite, who did not decry the steady impoverishment of the working class. People of color, along with those who espouse the liberal social values of the college-educated elites, including gun control, are seen by the vigilantes as contaminants to society that must be removed to restore the nation to health.

Richard Rorty in “Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth-Century America” writes that when our breakdown begins, “the gains made in the past forty years by black and brown Americans, and by homosexuals, will be wiped out. Jocular contempt for women will come back into fashion. The words ‘nigger’ and ‘kike’ will once again be heard in the workplace. All the sadism which the academic Left tried to make unacceptable to its students will come flooding back. All the resentment which badly educated Americans feel about having their manners dictated to them by college graduates will find an outlet.”

Our inability to formulate a coherent, militant revolutionary ideology, meanwhile, leaves us powerless in the face of mounting violence. We wander around in a daze. We lack the toughness and asceticism of the radicals who went before us—the Wobblies, the anarchists, the socialists and the communists. We preach a mishmash of tolerance and Oprah-like hope and exude a fuzzy faith in the power of the people. And because of this we are run over like frogs blindly hopping up and down on a road.

Our most cherished civil liberties have been taken from us. Our incomes are in free fall while obscene wealth is in the hands of a few oligarchs. We are watched and monitored by the most pervasive security and surveillance system in human history. We are hemmed in by archipelagos of prisons. And the ecosystem on which we depend for life is being destroyed. And, through it all, we are bombarded with propaganda, manipulated and mocked by our elites as we dance in their choreographed political charades.

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We must begin to speak in the language of revolution, not accommodation. We must direct the rage that grips huge swaths of the population not against the oppressed but against the structures of corporate power that create oppression. We will have to begin from scratch, for America has no revolutionary intellectual tradition, with the exception of Thomas Paine. We have produced notable anarchists—Randolph Bourne, Alexander Berkman, Emma Goldman and Noam Chomsky. We have an array of great black radicals, including W.E.B. Du Bois, Malcolm X, James Cone and Cornel West, as astute about the evils of empire as white supremacy. We once had some fine socialists, Eugene V. Debs among them. But we lack genuine revolutionists such as Alexander Herzen, Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Vladimir Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg, Antonio Gramsci and Frantz Fanon, and because of this we are losing the class war.

As the historian Richard Hofstadter writes in “American Violence,” his book with Michael Wallace, class conflict and income inequality in the United States, now at near historical levels, have traditionally been “overshadowed by ethnic-religious and racial conflict. Intermittent group warfare has been our substitute for, or alternative to, class war, and class war itself, when it has flared up, has seldom taken place in a clear atmosphere, unclouded by our racial-ethnic antagonisms and by our complex hierarchy of status based upon religious-ethnic-racial qualities.”

There have been a few forays into insurrectionary violence, including the 1786-87 Shays’ Rebellion and the armed uprising by the Blair Mountain coal miners. But these insurrections have lacked, as Hofstadter wrote, “an ideological and a geographical center.” Insurrectionary violence in America has, he observed, “been too various, diffuse, and spontaneous to be forged into a single, sustained, inveterate hatred shared by entire social classes.” A revolutionary language and consciousness must replace the current murderous nihilism.     

The government is banking on the fact that we are not hard-wired for revolution. The state, for this reason, permits the population to load itself up with weapons, including assault rifles, because it understands that they are almost never turned against centers of power. There are some 310 million firearms in the United States, including 114 million handguns, 110 million rifles and 86 million shotguns. There is no reliable data on the number of military-style assault weapons in private hands, but one estimate is 1.5 million. The United States has the highest rate of gun ownership in the world—an average of 90 per 100 people. We shoot each other or we shoot ourselves. Of the 282 people shot every day in the U.S., according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, 32 die in murders and 51 commit suicide.


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