Robin Yassin-Kassab

America versus America

with 7 comments

My children have a Dreamworks animated film called AntZ. I suppose it’s better than the average American children’s film, but still, once you’ve watched 15 minutes you can predict both the conclusion and the moral message that will be rammed violently past your gullet for the next hour and a bit. As in very many Disney films for children or in the Hollywood versions for adults, the message is BE YOURSELF. BE AN INDIVIDUAL. STAND OUT FROM THE CROWD.

It seems contradictory that the country which feeds its children unto obesity with this message is also the country with the most conformist of populations. Americans are more likely than any other people to confuse their national identity with their state machinery, to identify themselves with their leaders and their flag, to believe that their country has a divinely-ordained manifest destiny. The ability of Americans to contemplate alternative perspectives on the world, or even to understand that people in different countries may not want to speak English or eat hamburgers, is severely limited. The declared ideology is individualism, but the reality is rigid conformism.

Parallel to this, the American political system is described as democratic. The assumption even exists that America is in a position to export its vaunted democracy to more benighted lands. In reality, however, the American political system has much more in common with Italian fascism than it does with Athenian democracy. Athenian democracy suggests the rigorous debate of issues by the people in a public space, followed by direct voting. In Mussolini’s model, and in the contemporary US, the people are kept too busy to be able to think, are offered entertainment in place of debate and fantasy instead of facts. Corporations, media and the political parties are all on the same side. In the United States more than in Mussolini’s Italy, much of the religious apparatus is also absorbed into the corporate body. There is no public space. It has all been bought, from the airwaves to the shopping mall which replaces the old town centre.

BE YOURSELF doesn’t mean convert to Islam, or become an anarcho-syndicalist, or opt out of consumerism and live in the forest. There’s a strong media machinery to deal with such possibilities: you don’t want to be a freak, a loser, an evil-doer. GET REAL, buddy! There are prescribed ways to be yourself. You can, for instance, express your individuality by downloading a mass-produced individualised ring tone, or by wearing Ralph Lauren shirts, or Nike shoes, by hanging out with people who read a certain newspaper or drive a certain type of car. You can even prove your anti-establishment credentials by smoking Che Guevara cigarettes.

It’s important to rebel against your parents and the previous generation because by doing so you DEFINE YOURSELF and STAND OUT FROM THE CROWD. Novelty is important. Whatever was done last year is passé. REINVENT YOURSELF constantly. There was even an American TV show about women winning the opportunity to have extensive plastic surgery as well as posture and elocution lessons.

Our economy too requires constant tumult, continual renewal, in order to keep itself out of crisis. Standing still is, for it, disaster. And this points to the truth of American ‘individualism’ – not in fact particularly American, but specifically late capitalist. Marx predicted it. He called it the commodification of the human soul. There are other ways of defining your individuality, which do not rely on brands and products. You could, for instance, examine your position in relation to your family, your nation, human history, to the divine. This is a contemplative exercise which is not helped by the screen screaming BE YOURSELF, or by the late capitalist dissolution of the notion of history itself.

These thoughts have been sparked by Seymour Hersh’s latest article, and by the consequent question, what, and who, is anti-American? Hersh is America’s finest investigative journalist. He broke the My Lai story from Vietnam, and the Abu Ghraib story from Iraq. Now he’s investigating the coming US or Israeli attack on Iran and the proxy wars that the US is already involved in throughout the Middle East.

America is currently fingering Iran for supplying the weaponry that kills US occupying troops in Iraq. This is absurd, and the Americans at the top know it. 95% of American deaths in Iraq have been caused by Baathist or Salafi radicals who despise Iran. These anti-American fighters make or loot their own weapons, or buy them on the open market. They are funded not by Iran but by Saudi Arabia, America’s greatest Arab ally. The American ruling class don’t seem to actually give a damn about the American troops being killed.

Hersh also points to US funding of extreme Salafi groups in Lebanon and elsewhere. There’s nothing new in this. America has backed Wahhabi extremists before, to isolate revolutionary Iran and to trouble the Soviet Union. What makes this time different is that we are in the middle of a series of wars supposedly triggered by an attack on New York on September 11th 2001 … by extreme Salafis. The American ruling class don’t seem to give a damn about the American citizens killed on that historic day.

Last week a bus carrying Revolutionary Guards was blown up in Iranian Baluchistan by a Baluchi separatist (and Sunni fundamentalist) group which is funded by the US. One ‘strategy’ which Hersh describes is the weakening of Iran by arming and encouraging separatist terrorist groups among Iran’s Kurdish, Arab, Baluchi and Azeri minorities. Anyone who still thinks that the US administration is horrified by the civil war and fragmentation of Iraq should think again. They planned for it, and they are planning for it again. The disaster in Iraq has immeasurably strengthened instability and terror worldwide, as well as the global hatred of Americans. The American ruling class don’t seem to give a damn about Americans.

I despise the BE YOURSELF crap that passes for individualism in the US, but I’m not anti-American. Once Americans think beyond the capitalist poison (which is spreading far beyond America’s shores) and media illusion, they can be as bright as anyone else. America has produced Spike Lee and Martin Scorcese, Public Enemy and Miles Davis, John Cheever and Saul Bellow, the Bill of Rights and Malcolm X. America has a lot to be proud of.

What it should be ashamed of, and suspicious of, is its corporate ruling class. The people who whip up the wildest displays of flag-waving patriotism, and who actively collaborate with the enemies of the American people. Who ARE the enemies of the American people.

The Hersh article is here: http://www.newyorker.com/fact/content/articles/070305fa_fact_hersh
On the corporate rape of America, I recommend Naomi Klein’s book “No Logo.”

Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

February 27, 2007 at 6:42 am

Posted in Iran, Saudi Arabia, USA, Wahhabism

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7 Responses

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  1. Hello qunfuz:

    I like your posts. I find them to be both highly intelligent and deeply perceptive. Very few other voices have such a deep and coherent grasp of world events and politics. There are two general critisisms that I would like to offer which I feel, if understood and sincerely pondered, may assist in making your message something that has a more positive impact towards productive changes which help to solve the problems you point out so perceptively.

    Firstly, I feel that although you often have an excellent grasp of realities that many other individuals are unable to see, you react against these realities with an energy that does nothing to prevent their re-occurence. To “despise” something, for instance, is perhaps the most perfect way of ensuring that it remains fixed in place in one’s reality. This is because we only despise those things we have condemned, we only condemn those things for which we see no excuse, and those things for which we see no excuse we are unable to comprehend. That which we do not comprehend, we do not understand and that which we do not understand, we cannot change. In addition, that which is depised, despises back. That which is resisted, resists. By despising, we set up a struggle, a contest, and violence is often the result.

    After reading your posts, one is left thinking, “shit, what a mess!” but is not given anything useful to hold on to as a way of changing the bleak course. Do you have any productive suggestions about what a father should do in this world?

    In general, although you possess great insight and artistic fluency and expression, your vision is clouded by loathing and hidden pain and your message throbs with anger and frustration. All of these distract from the truth that is often present in your messages and provides many, who might otherwise listen, the perfect opportunity to right off everything you say.

    My second point is that one result of having this type of energy coarsing through your writing is that it jades your perception. You begin this post, for example, by talking about the movie Antz and very quickly you make a bold declaration of the apparently obvious message found there. I too have seen this movie and I must say that, although I feel I understand what you mean by the message given, and that I see your overall point about the mindless or useless way Americans are encounraged to be “individual” and how this is held up as a goal in a society that, I must agree, is much more into conforming than many others, I don’t see the movie Antz as a good example of this message. In my view, the individualism expressed in the movie Antz goes way beyond simply choosing to be a Muslim which, if we follow the analogy, would be like the main character continuing to dig holes as a worker, but to do so in a different garb, at different hours and with different accompanying rituals. Let’s face it, Christian or Muslim or Bahai, most of the basic ideas are the same. This character, however, did something much more radical given the context of his reality. He could be much more rightly compared to a Prophet Mohammed (Peace be upon Him) or a Buddha, or a Jesus Christ in that he not only entirely rejected the role that his society placed upon him, but he successfully reinvented himself and delivered a message to the highest powers of his world that resulted in a fundamental shift in the consciousness of the entire colony. He also won the love of the one being most unattainable.

    Now I realize that this is, after all, only a Disney movie, and that it was never intended by its creator to represent such a grand example of what is possible, but certainly, it goes way beyond wearing a brand to be different, or even changing one’s religion. (As an aside I must ask, and I suspect others may wonder, why would you expose your son to such violent filth is you truly believed it to be so?)

    In this vein I believe your assessment of the movie is similar to the relatively negative assessment you have of the consciousness of American people. I’m an American and I believe you make many important points on American consciousness. I do not, however, feel that the majority of Americans are as lulled by the powers of the media as you suggest. And even in that lull, there is much more of value hidden there than your revulsion allows you to see.

    Anyway, blog on brave trooper, but I hope that you may consider some of these thoughts.

    the light under the door

    March 1, 2007 at 3:59 pm

  2. Well, to be brief: I dont call the film violent filth. Read more carefully. It’s a film which contains an ideology which I find fairly filthy. I do despise the ideology, but not necessarily the people who are taken in by it. Although I despise, I think I do comprehend. The posting was explaining where I think the ideology comes from: capitalism. Philosophically, I can’t agree with most of what you say. I think ‘resistance’ in various senses is often necessary and good. I really can’t agree with your interpretation of AntZ. On Americans, I can only say that in my experience, and from the obvious gullibility of very many of them (what percentage believed Saddam was behind Sept 11th?), my comments stand. I don’t think this is necessarily their fault or because they are inherently any more stupid than the rest of us. And I must say I don’t think much of this vague word ‘energy’ – but now you’ll say that that’s my negative energy talking!


    March 1, 2007 at 9:13 pm

  3. There is a very good reason why “light under the door” elaborately and quite complicatedly makes his point. It’s because he’s talking utter nonsense.

    Welcome back after a long absence Qunfuz..liked the article. I tend to find quite a few American films always seem to carry a very similar message. In the UK there was a gel ad which ran recently set in an Asian totalitarian style country [China]. The students were all dressed in the same drab grey uniforms, but two students “dared” to be different and use a hair-gel product. Wow, such rebels. Interestingly, around that time, most guys in central London on a Saturday night sported the exact same hairstyle. They were all being unique, just like everybody else I guess.


    March 9, 2007 at 6:16 pm

  4. Being one of those arrogant Americans, I find this to be rather interesting. If you ever end up in America, go to Vermont, everybody feels this way, we’re just to small to do anything of any signifigance. I also think that you should join forces with Miceal Moore, although I hope you will NOT eat as many hotdogs. Well, that’s it from the most western of all easts,

    that guy who posted this

    The Macabre Flea

    March 26, 2007 at 8:10 pm

  5. Thanks for your comment. I have mixed feelings about Michael Moore. I loved the Bowling for Columbine film, but thought that Fahrenheit 9/11 didnt go nearly far enough. It’s a film which claims to unearth the causes and consequences of 9/11, but says not one word about American support for (funding and arming of) Israeli crimes against the Palestinians and Lebanese. When bin Laden said ‘I swear the Americans will not know peace until the children of Palestine sleep peacefully in their beds’ he won support even from his natural enemies in the Arab world. The film also suggests that voting for the democrats will solve America’s problems – but the democrats have historically been as pro-Israel as the Republicans, and the democrats voted for the Iraq war. A much more radical critique is needed.


    March 27, 2007 at 12:23 pm

  6. There is a reason that America is a world power. It is because we are a hot bed of intellect and innovation. If our culture is so flawed, how come there is so much culture. If we are so evil how come we send out so much aid? What are you doing good for the world with this silly little blog? do you think you are making a difference? When America actually becomes a fascist nation bent on world domination, start up this blog. Otherwise spend this time you waste writing on spending time with your kids. Teach them to fight ignorance and preach acceptance. Make your kids people who will lead and make a difference in this world. That would be helping out this world.

    One "fat" proud american

    March 29, 2007 at 9:43 pm

  7. […] lobbies, and a stupifying media and public education system have seen to that. Which brings us to the ill: America’s homogenising rage, which has ravaged first its own main streets (so Naomi Klein says […]

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