I follow Forrest Palmer on social media and when he posted this on Sunday, it totally struck a chord with me:
“I am so cynical now, my only response to the Iran debacle is “Spare me the fake fucking outrage, this is what empires do…””
For real. It’s an unsentimental view expressed with little concern for decorum, and it also happens to be true. “Well said,” in other words.
This is, indeed, what empires do, and the USA is an empire by any honest definition of the term.
Our very existence in North America is an imperial occupation. These lands were violently seized by committing genocide against the original inhabitants, and then shunting most of the survivors into prisoner-of-war camps called “reservations.” This was our original sin.
Like other empires throughout history, we enslaved other humans in order to generate wealth. This was our second founding travesty. It has changed forms over the years but never actually ended, and nowadays is ensconced as the incarceration industry.
From the beginning of the US, power has been concentrated among a small oligarchic ruling class who are hostile to democratic ideals, though they like to talk them up in principle. As Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz has pointed out, Trump is not the first real estate mogul to be president. That would be George Washington, who built his wealth by selling real estate stolen from the Indians. It’s been a dirty business since Day One.
But our mythology is strong. We are an exceptional nation, a “shining city on a hill,” who everyone else imitates, but nobody else can approach. We are the peak of human history so far, and everything before us was prelude. We can do no wrong.
That’s empire, alright: bloated, brazen and full of bullshit.
There definitely is such a thing as real outrage. For those who are stricken with it, flare-ups occur on a daily basis, just about every time they encounter news—and “the News.”
Small “n” news is the total sum of what’s being reported through various forms of media: television, radio, print, the internet. The widest selection is found online, and that’s because it’s so inexpensive to present content there. Successful Youtubers, for example, don’t pay any bandwidth costs no matter how popular their videos are, and they can even make money. Certainly there are other costs, and limits on what one can say, but the potential ability of an individual or a group to reach an audience has never been greater.
Then there’s the News, capital N, which refers only to what is distributed by the mainstream media. The perspectives there occupy a narrowly limited spectrum bounded by Fox at one end and NPR at the other. Included here are “respectable” outlets like NYT and WaPo. The wire services straddle the boundary, at least to the degree that their content is produced by independent individuals who are actually on site, and whose messages can sometimes stray outside the lines. The News is also known as “corporate media” and “the MSM.”
The MSM leaves out far more than it tells. This is in terms of facts and viewpoints. So, in the case of Iran, we are not reminded of the US’s long history of meddling in that nation, including a CIA coup in 1953 that was followed by over 20 years of despotic rule by a corrupt leader—the Shah—who was propped up by the US the whole time and then protected here from facing justice when he was overthrown by a popular revolution in 1979.
We are also not properly apprised of the bigger contemporaneous picture, in which Iran is allied with Russia and China, against whom a full-on hot war would be disastrous for many millions of people, especially if it escalated to the use of nuclear weapons.
Nor are we prompted to consider the effects of the economic sanctions that have already been imposed on Iran by the US, which have led to hardships there for ordinary people like you and me. Such sanctions are warfare by other means, to use a well-worn phrase.
That imperial power itself, whether military or economic, is fundamentally unjust and destructive, is never mentioned.
When it comes to “outrage” or any other legitimate human reaction to the behavior of the US against Iran or the rest of the world, the corporate media only offers us something that is “fucking fake.” If a media personality or politician starts to say how it actually is, they are quickly hushed and thereafter ignored. When such people make enough trouble, they are removed from their platforms or their offices: see Donahue and Chris Hedges in the media; see Dennis Kucinich and Cynthia McKinney in Congress.
Much of the independently produced media online sticks to the limits of discussion as outlined by the corporate media. Doing so is considered a way of being “legitimate,” and while playing that game might be socially legitimizing, yes, it has nothing to do with what is true. Every once in awhile it might happen to be, but that’s not actually the goal.
The opinions of ordinary (non-famous, non-powerful) US Americans are molded by media, so their outrage, too, is fake. When I listen to people speaking about current events or politics, it’s usually easy to identify their choice of media very quickly. Each flavor has its own vocabulary and emotional pose, and people pick the one they feel most comfortable with, which will bolster their views. Becoming informed is not at all the goal of media consumption for most people.
Real outrage calls for action. In this case, apologize to Iran, lift the sanctions, and offer reparations for the damage we caused, just to start with. To dismantle the empire, begin by: 1) repeating this with every other country we’ve messed with, 2) closing all overseas bases, 3) disarming our nuclear arsenal, 4) offering reparations to those we abused domestically and—last but not least—5) recognizing all Native American treaties and abiding by their terms. Again, just to start with.
Taking this path would be a very common sense way of bringing much more peace to the world of humans. It would also be a necessary precursor to getting serious about addressing the multiple environmental crises facing the planet. As an animal species, we humans are naturally cooperative, so we would all be happier and healthier if we were actively pursuing that tendency.
But Empire is the opposite of cooperation; it is domination. Living in an Empire warps one’s perception. The constant denial of all the brutality, past present, has a degrading effect on the conscience. Compassion contradicts the logic of empire, not just in foreign policy, but in the everyday lives of the citizenry. It’s like being constantly gripped by a tight, icy touch. How does one warm oneself against it?
In such a situation, fostering true outrage is a noble act, and I am appreciative of the people I know who are committed to doing so. I won’t name any names here because I don’t want to insult anybody who would inevitably slip my mind in this moment, but they are out there and their voices deserve amplification. To that end, I am planning to start a podcast this spring, in which I can interview some of them. Some people making such efforts are known nationally or beyond, and others are focused just on their local communities, but each one is dedicated all the same. There are many paths of cooperative resistance against empire and for life.
This Iran situation is a frightening moment and I hope it’s de-escalated as soon as possible. But even more, I hope for this Empire to end. It stands in the way of a collective healing of the world’s many hurts. To call it an “existential threat” to humans and much other life is no exaggeration, and that’s definitely something to be truly outraged about.