The Political Animal

The State of Surveillance

God knows your calling patterns. God knows your friends on Facebook, your pages liked, your rants and your dissenting comments. More – and better than the NSA or FBI – God knows what you think.

Or, if there is no personal God,  if that term is just a word made of letters – G-O-D – then what we refer to by the word but that does not exist does not know all these things about us.

The fact is, though, that we do not know which of these states prevails. Are we divinely surveilled by an all-knowing being, all our sins and virtues, our decencies and transgressions known, or do we retain the secrecy of our private, individual, and fallible selves? As long as we do not know, we can pretend what we wish, believe what pleases us, until the day may come, if it ever does, that we have cause, like Job, to say,

My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.

This blind living in the state of surveillance, the surveillance state, provides the story of ultimate import arising from the NSA PRISM and data mining revelations. There are other, related stories deserving of attention, but all of them are iterations of what will further be repeated in our human future whatever the outcome this time around: acts of conscience or betrayal, bad journalism, demagoguery. For too many public voices, however, these subsidiary if genuine subplots have become a distraction from the greater story. They have allowed their perspectives on terrorism or counter-terrorism, on the leaker and the reporters, and on the ideological tendencies these all represent to skew their perception of the significance of technological surveillance in human development.

For some, the prime role of the Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald in reporting the story and cooperating with leaker Edward Snowden has determined their view. If Greenwald helped break the story and if any elements of his work and conduct are questionable, then the story itself is first suspect, then readily dismissible. If the story arises from Greenwald’s anti-American animus and programmatic terrorist apologia, then a story, calling into question the sweep and nature of the U.S. counter-terrorism surveillance is fatally tainted.

Greenwald justly produces a level of antagonism among his foes equal to the moral shoddiness and intellectual dishonesty of his work. But the import of the story is independent of his motivation and any mistakes he may have made in reporting it. Greenwald remains an ongoing story in his own right, but the animus toward him should not distract us from greater concerns.

Then there is Edward Snowden and however much the surveillance story can be tainted by tainting him. The Greenwald, Wikileaks, and hactivist elements and sympathizers have crowed about how defenders of secrecy would try to destroy the messenger, for displeasure with the message and the messenger’s allies, and they were right. The effort was immediate and has been relentless.

Snowden did not help himself, certainly. Whatever convenient educational and social deficiencies he offered for the better educated and more established to sneer at and belittle, Snowden might have stood tall and dignified above all his critics had he done only one thing – had he revealed himself at a press conference in Washington D.C. with a lawyer at his side and declared himself righteously prepared to make the case for his actions, in defense of the democratic and constitutional system before which in good faith he would now submit himself. We have, in our civilizational memory the example of Socrates as first precedent. In our national memory, so recently, we have Martin Luther King, Jr.: the enactment of conscientious civil disobedience. Yet it is striking how few of those styling themselves as Snowden’s more cultivated betters even raise this single determinant of a person’s conscience. But we live in a time of so much preening conscience and much less redeeming conscientiousness – conscience without conscientiousness – that so few think how they might place themselves preemptively above assaults on their character, whatever the attacks on their choices.

So Snowden did not behave as the exemplar from whom we should take too serious instruction, and now, over the weekend, there is news via Snowden from the South China Morning Post of NSA spying on Hong Kong and Mainland China and again via Snowden from the Guardian unremarkable but embarrassing news about spying on then Russian President Medvedev while he was in England. Snowden has now unequivocally passed from any claim to protector of American civil liberties to, like his Guardian sponsor, active opponent of the U.S.’s legitimate national security activities.

This now is Edward Snowden’s story, and it, too, will unfold wrapped in folds of sub-plots and counter narratives. But he also is not the greater interest we should have.

Another distracting vein has been the assertion by some that there is, in fact, nothing new in these so-called revelations. These ho-humers dig up a news account from here or there, from six or eight years ago, and say, see – we knew all along, or should have. If we had read the USA Patriot Act, we would have known what was going on.

Nothing to see here. Move along.

These are, at the same time, oddly defensive and retaliatory arguments. At once they seem aimed at defending the government from charges of extraordinary or improper activity – even as government officials are daily claiming that national security has been harmed by revelation of what was not previously known – just as they seem aimed at discrediting the reporting as hype. Neither suggests a clear and proper focus on the deeper issue. It little diminishes the implications of such pervasive surveillance to argue that the citizenry should have gotten it before.

What’s the matter with you? Weren’t you paying attention? Too late. No makeup exams.

Let those who wish argue about the meaning of a phrase in five-year-old news articles or on an NSA power point. Let them bicker about a technical protocol and whether it was previously known. Part of the danger of technology is the confusion of its expertise for deeper knowledge or even wisdom. There is a bigger picture here, and to that picture too we received a contribution this weekend, from the AP: Secret to Prism Program: Even Bigger Data Seizure. What is a major source of this bigger seizure? The undersea cables that carry so much internet and teledata and that the NSA requires no FISA permission to tap.

The government has said it minimizes all conversations and emails involving Americans. Exactly what that means remains classified. But former U.S. officials familiar with the process say it allows the government to keep the information as long as it is labeled as belonging to an American and stored in a special, restricted part of a computer.

That means Americans’ personal emails can live in government computers, but analysts can’t access, read or listen to them unless the emails become relevant to a national security investigation.

The government doesn’t automatically delete the data, officials said, because an email or phone conversation that seems innocuous today might be significant a year from now.

What’s unclear to the public is how long the government keeps the data. That is significant because the U.S. someday will have a new enemy. Two decades from now, the government could have a trove of American emails and phone records it can tap to investigative whatever Congress declares a threat to national security.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has compared this to a vast library of books and, redefining the word “collect,” has argued, in defense of the charge that he has already lied to congress when denying that the NSA “collects” data on Americans:

To me collection of U.S. persons’ data would mean taking the book off the shelf and opening it up and reading it.

Consider some parallels. With or without a warrant, government or law enforcement representatives enter your home and collect, that is, gather up and take away items from your life and store it. They do not, they claim, look at it. Would you not consider the government to have pried into your life and collected information on you? The government might not then view and process the information, but it has, of course, collected it by every normal meaning of the word, unless you are a government official engaged in the kind of dissimulation government officials engage in to cover up lies. More – most vitally – this information is now in the government’s possession. Officials may claim that there are rules they would have to follow to access that information – to take that book off the shelf – but two options of personal autonomy are now foreclosed to you: any real meaning to your grant of assent to view the information (they already have it) or, in extremis, even to resist the “collection” of it (they already have it).

Imagine this scenario, analogous to the telephony metadata collection. Via multiple legal means, including the basic security camera that is beginning to record us everywhere no less than NSA intercepts, government agencies record the activity to and from, in and out of, every physical address in the United States, both of physical mail and of people. No attached record is maintained of who lives or works at these addresses, but for untold years, the interconnecting movements between these addresses are simply recorded.

The records go on a “shelf.”

Good people, otherwise smart people are assuring the public of the safeguards built into these processes, as if history, including recent and very contemporary history in the U.S. itself, is not replete with violations and abuse of the public trust in security matters. The Church Committee was only short of forty years ago. Just six years ago there were revelations of massive FBI abuse of the post 9/11 National Security Letter process.

One can believe ardently in, and argue with great coherence for, the necessity and moral legitimacy of counter-terrorist espionage and surveillance activities and still recognize the magnitude of the moment and the deep consideration necessary as we face it. Some slopes are actually slippery: what is required in the warning is some evidence of the accumulating ice.

The worst responses to the civilizational transformation that awaits us are the stupid-blasé and the conventional-cynical. Of the former, we have this example from Chez Pazienza.

It isn’t because you never know who’s watching you. It’s because everyone is watching you. You’re always under surveillance. Everyone is connected to the social media hive mind. Whether you’re jacked in yourself, by yourself, putting your own information out there for all to see, or the person next to you is commenting on what’s going on in his or her general vicinity and you just happen to be a part of the action, you have no expectation of privacy anymore.

You can let this paralyze you. You can let it make you crazy. Or you can let go.

You have no idea where the guards of this prison are or how many of them there are at any one time. But you always know they’re there. You have no idea exactly who’s watching you. But you know you’re being watched. That’s the Panopticon.

But if you don’t know who’s watching, whether it’s the NSA or the guy sitting across the street from you on a date, is it really that big a deal? Remember: distance and ignorance. Widen the scope big enough and far enough — make the eyes invisible — and who really has time to care?

Let go. Let it wash over you. Enjoy it. The matrix is fun. Who needs bodies? Who needs reality? (And hey, man, what’s reality anyway? Know what I mean?) If everyone is watching you, it’s like no one is –get it? While their eyes were watching God, God snoozed.

Until he wakes up.

Somehow, under much more low-tech surveillance, the minions behind the Iron Curtain did not discover such a bearable lightness of being. Pazienza, it appears, is ready to love Colossus.

Of conventional thinking, always ready to dismiss the extraordinary development or solution, outside of any equivalents of the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, you will find no greater repository than government officials and their establishment political journalist compeers, who are often prone to consort with conventional thinking’s evil twin, cynicism. Those who do not are prone to think as if the dysfunctional, striving liberal topia that is the United States of America is the end of history, and other than the GOP trying to roll back abortion rights in state legislatures and reconfigure Jim Crow, nothing calamitously degenerative can ever happen to American democracy until, one presumes, the Sun burns out.

It would do well to remind, then, that in the aftermath of 9/11, when government security professionals felt challenged by the demand to imagine the threats we might face, they turned, of all places, to Hollywood. Or look back at the record of diplomats and science fiction writers and check who has had the better record of anticipating what the future would deliver, especially through technology.

We have been called on the plane to look out the window, and even it was by some guy from a Twilight Zone episode, there is frost on the wing. It’s time for deicing.


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The Political Animal

A Campaign of Willful Blindness on Terrorism


This article first appeared in the Algemeiner on May 2, 2013.  

On April 15, 2013 at 2:49 p.m. two bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Most of us know the details, more or less – the three dead, 264 wounded and maimed, the days of fear, of investigation and pursuit, the two Chechen brothers, one a radicalized Muslim now dead, the other apprehended.

The very next day, time unknown, Tim Wise, “anti-racist essayist, activist and educator,” posted to his website “Terrorism and Privilege: Understanding the Power of Whiteness.” Fewer than twenty-four hours after the bombs went off, Wise had written 1002 words stating three lessons of the event.

That violence is unacceptable stands out as one, sure. That hatred — for humanity, for life, or whatever else might have animated the bomber or bombers — is never the source of constructive human action seems like a reasonably close second.

The third lesson was “a lesson about race, about whiteness, and specifically, about white privilege.”

Wise included 53 links to details of deadly “terrorist” attacks by white people over the past seven decades. That was a lot of research over the twenty-four hours, the very immediate aftermath of first events, or the names and links had already been collected. Either way, it is a lot of concentration, too, a lot of focus, on a theme without much knowledge of events.

The same day, within the same twenty-four hour period – at 1:24 EDT to be exact, so only 21.5 hours after the explosions, David Sirota published at “Let’s hope the Boston Marathon bomber is a white American .” Sirota’s general theme was the same as Wise’s. In fact, he quotes Wise’s essay of the same day, which means that Wise published even earlier than 21.5 hours after events, or that the two were in communication about their publishing intentions.

Wise and Sirota were not even first off the line. had actually published, by Alex Seitz-Wald, Salon’s political reporter, on the very day, “After Boston explosions, a scapegoat emerges on the right.” The subhead read,

Following the New York Post’s lead, a belief is affirmed: The Boston explosions must have been done by Muslims.

The piece is even time stamped 4:36 PDT, which would be an hour and thirteen minutes before the explosions. Hildy Johnson’s got nothin’ on Alex Seitz-Wald.

It is clear that nearly instantaneous with the Boston bombings, there was a segment of the political spectrum invested in the idea that among the lessons to be learned, “[t]hat violence is unacceptable stands out as one, sure,” but that even if the attack was perpetrated by Muslims, the greater lesson to be learned would be about white people.

Coincidentally (?) that same day as Wise and Sirota published, the Huffington Post published, by Egyptian-Belgian writer Khaled Diab, “A Brief History of Western ‘Jihadists.” Also that day fromHuffington Post and Sonny Singh, “musician & social justice educator,” we got, only twenty-one hours after the attack, “Prayers for Boston and for an End to Racist [sic] Backlash.” From “neuroscience researcher, blogger, atheist” Vlad Chituc at Huffington Post, we had on April 17, “Even if It Was a Muslim, So What?” We had moved in fewer than forty-eight hours, during which it was almost immediately claimed a racist, scapegoating backlash had swept over the country, from let’s hope it’s a white man, whose whiteness is rich with meaning, to so what if it was a Muslim – that means nothing.

By two days later, anti-Semitic website Mondoweiss was publishing “Boston Marathon bombings unleash a new wave of Islamophobia.”

In what should make for discomforting symmetry, two days later still, on her Sunday MSNBC program, Tulane Professor Melissa Harris-Perry opined,

Given that they’re Chechen, given that they are literally Caucasian, our very sense of connection to them is this framed up notion of, like, Islam making them into something that is non-white.

Added Georgetown University professor Michael Eric Dyson, “We want to demonize the other. We have to distance it from the dominant culture.”

Again, the impetus behind this concerted flipping of the script on the Boston bombing was to deflect attention away from Islamic beliefs, behaviors or radical ideology as any kind of particularly identifiable source of indiscriminate, terrorizing violence in the modern world, and to draw it instead – even when the violence can, in fact, be directly tied to Islam’s role in the lives of the perpetrators – to white, Western, even Christian culture, which, in remarkable contrast to the proposed non sequitur (“so what?”) of Islam, according to these arguments, can be readily invested with all kinds of connective meaning.

As we see, this effort to deny the implications of violence originating from individuals or groups espousing radical Islamic beliefs was pursued both in anticipation of and after discovery of the bombers’ motivations. This was actually the second part of a two-part effort. The first part involved hyping any indications of prejudicial backlash against American Muslims.

All over the internet and other forms of media, participants in the creation of this preemptive narrative drew attentions to the same handful of public incidents, instances of yellow journalism, and inflammatory public comments.

Singh, who was already “praying” for the end to an already existent “racist backlash” – wrote,

We have to worry about being attacked because of the color of skins, the turbans or hijabs on our heads, the beards on our faces. I pray that people in the United States and beyond have learned something in the last 11 and a half years. I pray that the collective response to yesterday will be drastically different from the knee-jerk racism that pervaded the days, weeks, months, and years after 9/11/01.

From Singh to Chituc to Mondoweiss to UK Progressive to the anonymous Islamophobia Todayonline news aggregator to Chloe Patton at openDemocracy, we read about the New York Post’ssensational and erroneous tabloid reportage. We read of the Murdoch empire’s further fear mongering on Fox News. We read of comments by the predictable crack pots, such as Alex Jones and Erik Rush, and by the usual suspects of incitement, from Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer and Glenn Beck to Laura Ingraham, Steve Emerson and the always bizarrely quotable Dana Rohrhacher. The same two incidents – attacks on a hijab-wearing Palestinian woman in Massachusetts and on a Bangladeshi man in the Bronx – were reported in account after account as evidence of a “wave of Islamophobia.” From a left perspective, politically misguided and even hateful counter programming can be expected from these sources on any issue. Yet this strikingly miniscule selection of examples has been used to manufacture, in its own right, the sensationally fabricated storyline of anti-Islamic fervor and activity in the United States after the Boston Marathon bombings.

From a counter foundation of fear mongering, that of some impending or already actual wave of “racist” Islamophobic attack,  was then offered the argument in demonstration, repeatedly, that while no relation between Islam and terrorist acts committed in its name could be meaningful ascribed, almost any group characterization related to the West, the U.S., Christianity, or Jews is empirically justifiable.

An outstanding example not on American media radar was the April 25 Patton diatribe atopenDemocracy. In contrast to the insular nature of American media and policy discussion, openDemocracy is well reflective of a cosmopolitan and internationalist left engaged in a broader discourse. In the aftermath of Boston, Patton’s piece warned in its title to “beware the multi-million dollar Islamophobia industry.” The article went on to hit many of the markers noted above, claiming that

the US Islamophobia industry has seized on the bombing to bolster its campaign of misinformation and fear-mongering, and we would do well to pay careful attention.

The evidence is abundant, however, that a counter force of apologists “seized” on the Boston bombings beginning on the very day of their occurrence “to bolster its campaign of misinformation and fear-mongering.” Seeking to expose the “Islamophobia industry,” Patton wrote,

A Centre for American Progress report found that between 2001 and 2009, [Steve] Emerson’s Investigative Project on Terrorism organisation, along with Daniel Pipes’s Middle East Forum, Frank Gaffney’s Center for Security Policy, the David Horowitz Freedom Centre, the Clarion Fund, Robert Spencer’s Jihad Watch, the American Congress for Truth, and the Counterterrorism and Security Education and Research Foundation received over US $42 million from just seven major foundations.

Who knows how readers responded to this account of supposedly massive funding of extremist anti-Islamic organizations, but it is unlikely they knew that amidst the rich and rich panoply of American public policy and political organizations of every leaning, the progressive Center for American Progress itself, in 2010 alone, had a budget of US$36 million.

In the course of paying special attention to Emerson, Patton informs that he is “warmly received by the Christian Right and the pro-Israel lobby.” She later notes that “the threat that cashed-up conservatives pose to democracy cannot be ignored.” In marked contrast, the threat that ordnance-bearing Islamist fanatics pose to democracy, and to every humane Enlightenment liberal value, should not be articulated.

Diab, in his diversionary Huffington Post blog, and much in the embarrassing form of Brian Levin, director of the Center for Study of Hate and Extremism, during his appearance on Bill Maher’s Real Time, sought to deflect attention from Islamists in the twenty first century by citing “Western Jihadists” in any other century. If you hadn’t yet read modern Islamism excused by resort to the example of the famously obscure Guy Fawkes, and the Gun Powder Plot of 1605 to blow up the English Houses of Parliament, you know of it now.

The post Boston effort to erase from memory the record of contemporary Islamic terrorism, and the meaning of the beliefs that give rise to it, and to replace it with a narrative of typical and defining white, Western “racial” prejudice against Muslims has actually been long underway. Characteristic was Murtaza Hussain in Al-Jazeera last December warning of “Anti-Muslim violence spiralling out of control in America.”

What is the actual record of such violence?

According to the FBI compilation of hate crime statistics in the U.S., drawn from between eleven and fifteen thousand participating federal, state, and local agencies, since and including 2001, hate crimes against Muslims in the United States have averaged about 2% of all reported hate crimes each year. In contrast, hate crimes against Jews have averaged about 12.5%. Typically over those years, hate crimes against Jews have constituted 65-70% of all crimes with a religious basis. The total of all hate crimes against Muslims beginning with the recent peak year of 2001 through 2010 is 1608. During the same period, the total against Jews is 9470. Even when adjusted proportionately, the U.S. Muslim population being today about 40% of the Jewish, hate crimes against Jews are far more than double. In 2001, hate crimes against Muslims reached a height of 481. If we believe that these crimes are concentrated in a regrettable aftermath of prejudice post 9/11, then they were concentrated in a less than four month period. Yet that sad record quickly altered, for as soon as 2002 there was a drop to 155 reported crimes, and that number steadily declined to just over 100 until a 60% uptick in 2010. In that year offenses against Muslims rose to 160. Against Jews in that year the number was 897.

The point here is not for Jews or any other group to be in competition for most offended against and criminally attacked. The point is what the empirical realities are and what the narrative is being spun around those realities, for Muslims and for Jews, who as common and particular targets of Islamic anti-Semitism and Islamist genocidal threat and terror attack should have special interest in honest acknowledgement of international and local currents and the policies devised to cope with them.

Before 9/11, given the small size and recency of an American Muslim population, few Americans had had much experience of Muslims or knew or thought much about Islam, which is outside the historic experience of the nation and its culture. In contrast to the long black-white experience in the United States, originating in slavery, there is no long history to, or historical inherence of, anti-Muslim bigotry. Yet the effort is clearly afoot in some leftist ranks to incorporate purported culturally natural bias against Muslims into a general practice of white, dominant discrimination, even very pointedly to the point of spreading like a rash the misnomer of anti-Muslim racism. Thus, when thoughts arise of Islamist agency on the occasion of a terror attack, the urgent counter-claim is made within twenty-four hours that those very thoughts give expression to “racism.” They are a by-product of “white privilege.”

The sad slander of white privilege as a concept is its origination in, yet departure from, a profound truth – that, generally speaking, Westernness and whiteness in the world, like being American at this time in history or speaking English, or being tall or good looking, well rather than poorly educated, rich rather than poor, a smooth, easy talker instead of slow and halting are all natural or historically contingent bases for advantage in life. Some advantages, like the rewards of education, may seem eminently reasonable and fair, others, like those of good looks and height self-evidently not. To be a white male of the Western world, ah, there’s a long tale out of history, but it doesn’t tell very much the story of the coal miner or the cabbie, or the son of a cabbie who earned or learned his own way to an elevation in life that others may wish – judging just by appearance – to attribute to privilege.

An advantage may land in a roll of the dice; a privilege is in the power that loads them. The lord who preserves the manor lives a long way from the journeyman whose mother once dropped him near the verdure. The choice of white privilege as the denominator in this idea is a decision to accuse, not just of advantage or even immunity, but also of the due expectation of prerogative, and thus to charge with complicity, to impugn the natural moral consciousness, against proof to the contrary, of those so designated, simply by the color of their skin. Inviting resentment and ill feeling, the term generalizes, confronts, and makes defensive merely on the basis of skin color and it is, quite simply, on that basis alone, racist itself.

The resort to this sinking moral high ground is made by people properly concerned with the human ill of racism, but so preemptively concerned with it that they now layer that racial consciousness over the evidence of other features of reality. There may now be a contemporary world-historical crisis in the relationship between Islam and the liberal democratic legacy of the Enlightenment, but since that clash is between the inheritors of an historically tainted white European civilization and cultures readily otherized – orientalized – in multiple ways, western liberal democracy need be literally disarmed of aggressive defense by being intellectually neutered of any justification for it. Despite, then, the extensive record of the deep roots and long tracks of Islamist extremism, from Sayyid Qutb through the Muslim Brotherhood, Al-Qaeda and onward, from pre-9/11 terrorism to post-9/11 terrorism, elements on the American left, like those internationally, believe they can rhetorically erase weak public memories of the source and nature of Islamic terror much as similar tendencies attempt to obscure the historical record of Arab rejectionism of Israel and the reasons for Palestinian statelessness.

They reduce the mere suggestion of it to racist ignorance of white privilege.

Even the rare complex and subtle consideration, such as that by Wilson Brissett and Patton Dodd at the Atlantic (online), follows the trend. Drawing from a well of reference on religion as a personal psychological and cultural phenomenon, including William James and his Varieties of Religious Experience they tell us,

Fanaticism is not religion pushed too far. It is tribalism without a tribe. And it can be a particular risk with the geographical and cultural dislocation attending the American experience of immigration, whether for the Wielands of Saxony or the Tsarnaevs of Dagestan.

But of course, with the increase of migratory movement throughout the world, we see these stresses elsewhere, particularly now in Europe, which has less experience of it than the U.S. Still, the authors or Atlantic editors choose to title their article “The Boston Bombing: Made in the U.S.A.”

“Piety is the mask,” James, wrote, “the inner force is tribal instinct.”

Brissett and Dodd conclude,

For most of American history, this ressentiment has hidden behind a Christian mask of piety. The new mask of piety for the American fanatical killer is Islam.

Well, not only, or even much, actually, the American fanatical killer. Mostly Islam is the mask for the non-American fanatical killer. But the one question so many otherwise thoughtful people no longer care to ask, among the so many others they entertain, is why Islam.

That is the most astonishing characteristic of this movement – its willingness, the active effort, to intellectually disable itself, even as it seeks to disable the arguments of those who might critique Islam by finding in it, and not the West, a source of contemporary intolerance. Recall Chituc’s “Even if It Was a Muslim, So What?”

So what. There is the disarmament. In feigned intellectual apathy and dumbness, contrary to the most fundamental human developments of empirical and rational thought, to evidentiary detail, which is the very rightful charge made by the left against rightwing antiscience extremism. Yet as recently as May 1, this drift was evinced on the left, on this subject, on the Rachel Maddow Show, as Maddow reported on the charges brought that day against three friends of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

I admire Rachel Maddow. I declare this not to offer polite respect to excuse abashed criticism, but actually to emphasize the critique. Amid the minimal quotient of entertainment snark, she offers on her program some of the finest left – good – broadcast journalism. Not a straight news broadcast, her program presents what are really journalistic essays with a clear point of view, loaded with the evidence of good reporting and the insights of Maddow and her producers into the pretexts and subtexts of the conservative agenda and its policies. Maddow thinks, she perceives, she sees into things.

After Jared Lee Loughner shot Rep. Gabby Giffords and 18 others, for instance, killing six, there was much angry contention between gun control and gun rights advocates over whether politics and culture might fairly be ascribed any responsibility for the shooting, given Loughner’s mental illness. Many conservatives were outraged at the suggestion that culture might bear any of the burden of the products of it. Maddow argued otherwise on her program, running through a history of mass shootings just during Loughner’s lifetime. She said,

Given that, each new American gun massacre is both singularly horrific in its own way and it is insane not to acknowledge that it is part of a very clear, very frequently repeating pattern.  Every time this happens, we look for answers and explanations and lessons in the specifics of the particular case.

In this case, the potential mental illness of the alleged shooter, the effort to try to find some political coherence, and what appeared to be his beliefs, the effort to find out whether it was his beliefs that note investigated the shooting, what exactly this killer was armed with, how exactly he was stopped, whether this could have been foretold by anything in his life—we look to these details.

That was then.

Now, apparently, Maddow has decided not to see into things, she has decided that making connections is, well… so what.

If one was attentive throughout the Boston arrests segment, a segment purporting to deliver rather straight news, one could pick up, from the very start, not Maddow’s clear point of view on the story, but her own subtext. The subtext rose closest to the main floor lobby during her interview of ex CIA and FBI terrorism expert Philip Mudd.

you have talked about the difference between an ideological association with a group like al qaeda and an operational association. an operational association would be the sort of thing we think about with them being kind of activated as a cell, them being directed to do something, trained to do something, and then they follow through. an aspirational or inspirational link would just be what they had in their heads when they were acting on their own accord. is that division between those two different kinds of relationships important in terms of whether or not we think about this as a terrorist attack versus a crime? should we care all that much about what these guys were thinking about if nobody told them to do this, if nobody trained them to do this, they worked it out on their own? [Emphasis added]

“Should we care all that much about what these guys were thinking?” So what. Don’t think, don’t make connections, abjure insight.

Like Brissett and Dodd, Maddow is advancing a new argument. Wrote the first two,

Tamerlan and Dzhokhar may have sought ties to other Islamic militants, but their actions do not appear to have been a centrally planned statement from a larger organization.

Maddow noted to Mudd, above,

you have talked about the difference between an ideological association with a group like al qaeda and an operational association. an operational association.

And a mere ideological association, “what these guys were thinking,” now that is something that we, in contrast, should not be thinking about.

Now, the champions of Galileo against the closed Christian mind, the inheritors of Darwin, the advocates of the scientific method that studies anthropogenic global warming have become the epiphenomenalists of terrorism: there are the hateful ideas and the violent acts. Make no connection between them, (unless it is to American culture, white people, “cashed-up conservatives” or the “Israel lobby”) and certainly do not think that the ideas produce the acts.

Do not even care. If one does not care, one doesn’t have to see. One can choose not to see.

There’s a term for that.


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