Addiction is not a disease

A neuroscientist argues that it’s time to change our minds on the roots of substance abuse

A psychologist and former addict insists that the illness model for addiction is wrong, and dangerously so

Addiction is not a disease: A neuroscientist argues that it's time to change our minds on the roots of substance abuse

The mystery of addiction — what it is, what causes it and how to end it — threads through most of our lives. Experts estimate that one in 10 Americans is dependent on alcohol and other drugs, and if we concede that behaviors like gambling, overeating and playing video games can be addictive in similar ways, it’s likely that everyone has a relative or friend who’s hooked on some form of fun to a destructive degree. But what exactly is wrong with them? For several decades now, it’s been a commonplace to say that addicts have a disease. However, the very same scientists who once seemed to back up that claim have begun tearing it down.

Once, addictions were viewed as failures of character and morals, and society responded to drunks and junkies with shaming, scolding and calls for more “will power.” This proved spectacularly ineffective, although, truth be told, most addicts do quit without any form of treatment. Nevertheless, many do not, and in the mid-20th century, the recovery movement, centered around the 12-Step method developed by the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, became a godsend for those unable to quit drinking or drugging on their own. The approach spread to so-called “behavioral addictions,” like gambling or sex, activities that don’t even involve the ingestion of any kind of mind-altering substance.

Much of the potency of AA comes from its acknowledgement that willpower isn’t enough to beat this devil and that blame, rather than whipping the blamed person into shape, is counterproductive. The first Step requires admitting one’s helplessness in the face of addiction, taking recovery out of the arena of simple self-control and into a realm of transcendence. We’re powerless over the addictive substance, and trust in a Higher Power, and the program itself, to provide us with the strength and strategy to quit. But an important principle of the 12 Steps is that addiction is chronic and likely congenital; you can be sober indefinitely, but you will never be cured. You will always remain an addict, even if you never use again.

The flourishing of the 12-Step movement is one of the reasons why we now routinely describe addiction as a “disease.” To have a disease — instead of, say, a dangerous habit — is to be powerless to do anything except apply the prescribed cure. A person with a disease is unfortunate, rather than foolish or weak or degenerate. Something innate in your body, particularly in your brain, has made you exceptionally susceptible to getting hooked. You always have and always will contain a bomb, the important question is how to avoid setting a match to it. Another factor promoting the disease model is that it has ushered addiction under the aegis of the healthcare industry, whether in the form of an illness whose treatment can be charged to an insurance company or as the focus of profit-making rehab centers.

This conception of addiction as a biological phenomenon seemed to be endorsed over the past 20 years as new technologies have allowed neuroscientists to measure the human brain and its activities in ever more telling detail. Sure enough, the brains of addicts are physically different — sometimes strikingly so — from the brains of average people. But neuroscience giveth and now neuroscience taketh away. The recovery movement and rehab industry (two separate things, although the latter often employs the techniques of the former) have always had their critics, but lately some of the most vocal have been the neuroscientists whose findings once lent them credibility.

One of those neuroscientists is Marc Lewis, a psychologist and former addict himself, also the author of a new book “The Biology of Desire: Why Addiction is Not a Disease.” Lewis’s argument is actually fairly simple: The disease theory, and the science sometimes used to support it, fail to take into account the plasticity of the human brain. Of course, “the brain changes with addiction,” he writes. “But the way it changes has to do with learning and development — not disease.” All significant and repeated experiences change the brain; adaptability and habit are the brain’s secret weapons. The changes wrought by addiction are not, however, permanent, and while they are dangerous, they’re not abnormal. Through a combination of a difficult emotional history, bad luck and the ordinary operations of the brain itself, an addict is someone whose brain has been transformed, but also someone who can be pushed further along the road toward healthy development. (Lewis doesn’t like the term “recovery” because it implies a return to the addict’s state before the addiction took hold.)

“The Biology of Desire” is grouped around several case studies, each one illustrating a unique path to dependency. A striving Australian entrepreneur becomes caught up in the “clarity, power and potential” he feels after smoking meth, along with his ability to work long hours while on the drug. A social worker who behaves selflessly in her job and marriage constructs a defiant, selfish, secret life around stealing and swallowing prescription opiates. A shy Irishman who started drinking as a way to relax in social situations slowly comes to see social situations as an occasion to drink and then drinking as a reason to hole up in his apartment for days on end.

Each of these people, Lewis argues, had a particular “emotional wound” the substance helped them handle, but once they started using it, the habit itself eventually became self-perpetuating and in most cases ultimately served to deepen the wound. Each case study focuses on a different part of the brain involved in addiction and illustrates how the function of each part — desire, emotion, impulse, automatic behavior — becomes shackled to a single goal: consuming the addictive substance. The brain is built to learn and change, Lewis points out, but it’s also built to form pathways for repetitive behavior, everything from brushing your teeth to stomping on the brake pedal, so that you don’t have to think about everything you do consciously. The brain is self-organizing. Those are all good properties, but addiction shanghais them for a bad cause.

As Lewis sees it, addiction really is habit; we just don’t appreciate how deeply habit can be engraved on the brain itself. “Repeated (motivating) experience” — i.e., the sensation of having one’s worries wafted away by the bliss of heroin — “produce brain changes that define future experiences… So getting drunk a lot will sculpt the synapses that determine future drinking patterns.” More and more experiences and activities get looped into the addiction experience and trigger cravings and expectations like the bells that made Pavlov’s dogs salivate, from the walk home past a favorite bar to the rituals of shooting up. The world becomes a host of signs all pointing you in the same direction and activating powerful unconscious urges to follow them. At a certain point, the addictive behavior becomes compulsive, seemingly as irresistibly automatic as a reflex. You may not even want the drug anymore, but you’ve forgotten how to do anything else besides seek it out and take it.

Yet all of the addicts Lewis interviewed for “The Biology of Desire” are sober now, some through tried-and-true 12-Step programs, others through self-designed regimens, like the heroin addict who taught herself how to meditate in prison. Perhaps it’s no surprise that a psychologist would argue for some form of talk therapy addressing the underlying emotional motivations for turning to drugs. But Lewis is far from the only expert to voice this opinion, or to recommend cognitive behavioral therapy as a way to reshape the brain and redirect its systems into less self-destructive patterns.

Without a doubt, AA and similar programs have helped a lot of people. But they’ve also failed others. One size does not fit all, and there’s a growing body of evidence that empowering addicts, rather than insisting that they embrace their powerlessness and the impossibility of ever fully shedding their addiction, can be a road to health as well. If addiction is a form of learning gone tragically wrong, it is also possible that it can be unlearned, that the brain’s native changeability can be set back on track. “Addicts aren’t diseased,” Lewis writes, “and they don’t need medical intervention in order to change their lives. What they need is sensitive, intelligent social scaffolding to hold the pieces of their imagined future in place — while they reach toward it.”

Laura Miller is a senior writer for Salon. She is the author of “The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia” and has a Web site,magiciansbook.com.

Where is Gay America going next?

future queer

chee-lede

BY ALEXANDER CHEE
ILLUSTRATION BY NEIL GILKS
JUNE 23, 2015

THE DAY IN 2011 THAT I WENT TO THE OFFICE of the city clerk in lower Manhattan with my partner Dustin to register for our domestic partnership was coincidentally also the first day same-sex partners were allowed to register for marriage in the state of New York. A reporter was on hand, hoping to get a quote. As a prompt, she told us that the state’s marital forms had not been updated: Any couple registering that day would be required to designate one person as the man, and the other, the woman. Did we have any reaction?

“We’re not here for that,” we said, smiling, as we passed her, and then we found we had to keep saying it at every point of the process, to all of the helpful clerks at each step who reminded us that we could register to marry instead. We thanked them and continued on to get our partnership. We had discussed marriage and decided it wasn’t for us, not yet, maybe not ever. A domestic partnership suited us. We joked a little afterward about which one of us would have been the man, which the woman, but without question, I had the uncanny sense of entering another world, one in which government officials recognized our relationship in a friendly, helpful way, even if we weren’t going to marry—and even if the forms weren’t quite ready for the many people like me about to get married. I remember thinking: This is the future.

I’ve lived through several of these moments. In 1995, for example, whenhighly active antiretroviral therapy, or what became known as the “AIDS cocktail,” was approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and then later entered the lives of my friends with HIV or AIDS, I went from worrying if they were going to live, to worrying that they still smoked too much now that they were going to live. Or in 2007, when my sister, who’s a teacher, invited me to speak to her high school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, and the students there asked me why I didn’t come out in high school. I had to explain that such an act was unimaginable for a boy from Maine in 1984—as was anything like a student Gay-Straight Alliance—and I could tell my past was as unimaginable to them as their present was to me.

Or in 2008, when the Democratic National Convention adopted “Health care is a right” into its platform for the presidency. I remembered staffing a volunteer table for ACT UP in San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood in 1991, on the corner of Castro and 18th Street, and on my table were posters, stickers, and t-shirts that bore the same slogan in all caps—ACT UP slogan house style.

I wore one of those shirts to model for passers-by. People walked by me, uncomfortably most of the time, but on occasion, someone would come up and ask for a sticker or a t-shirt, and it felt like a little victory. This presidential platform moment, while huge, felt strangely small at the same time—still not enough.

ACT UP was trying to explain to Americans that AIDS could affect all of us, that health care that ended once your disease was expensive could affect more than gay men with HIV or AIDS. We were trying to tell them about the future—a future they didn’t yet see and would be forced to accept if they failed to act. But there was an epidemic of denial happening alongside AIDS, the belief that you could not get AIDS, not really, unless you were gay—and that you would never need the protections people with HIV needed. In 1990, health care was not something most people feared losing, and employer-based health care was not yet considered a business cost too high to bear. Blue Cross Blue Shield was not yet run for profit. But we had seen our friends and lovers abandoned by doctors and shunned by hospitals, and as we knew only too well, drug companies were run for profit, and there were drugs that needed to be tested in order for people with HIV to survive. The number of people infected in 1990 seemed too low to the people running spreadsheets at drug companies, and so they weren’t doing the tests on drugs that they could. There was no upside for them in making drugs that they believed would only benefit perhaps 50,000 people. This is a fate any American with a rare disease has faced—not just people with HIV—they quickly learn that their lives are the cost of doing business.

As of 2013, according to the World Health Organization, 35 million people were estimated to be living with HIV or AIDS globally, and 39 million have died from the disease. The epidemic of denial won, and now everyone knows there is money in the making of drugs for AIDS. There is now, sadly, a great deal of money in it. And, as some of my old ACT UP friends have noted, there is now no money in curing it. Instead, there is PrEP, the one-pill HIV, pre-exposure prophylaxis, which promises condom-free sex, if you can afford it, at a price tag for the uninsured of $8,000 to $14,000 a year.

WHAT ARE THE IMPLICATIONS OF WHAT YOU’VE INVENTED?That’s a question I often ask my students in fiction writing, as a way to get them to generate plots organically out of the little scenes that first come to them. So what are the implications of what we’ve invented?

For many Americans, marriage equality represents a capstone “here at last” moment for gay people, but it really is more of a beginning.

I live in a world today that I never would have imagined possible. I can serve in the military as openly gay, if I wanted. I can join my friends as they passionately, freely, and publicly debate the merits and downsides of the sex life that PrEP makes possible. I can choose from male, female, and “custom,” as well as my preferred pronoun, on my Facebook profile, where I get notices about the upcoming reunion of ACT UP SF alongside updates about my upcoming high school reunion. And, yes, I can marry in 37 states.

The pursuit of marriage equality has changed us. We privilege the life of couples over those who might never marry in a way we never did before. For many Americans, marriage equality represents a capstone “here at last” moment for gay people, but we know it really is more of a beginning. It is still legal to be fired for being gay or transgender in more than half of U.S. states. Those openly gay soldiers, should they marry, can be denied shared retirement benefits for their spouses in states where marriage equality is not (yet) the law. Increased trans visibility and the conversation around gender identities have generated more awareness than ever before about trans lives, and has resulted, for example, in advances, such as the inclusion of trans girls in the Girl Scouts. Yet terrible violence against trans people continues, often as brutal murders, many of them left unsolved, should they even be investigated, especially against trans people of color. Religious conservatives, meanwhile, are busy using the courts and legislatures to try to deny us the rights we have only recently gained—claiming that upholding the laws that have been passed oppresses their religious freedom, and that they must be allowed the liberty of their bigotry.

And so it is with a very strange sort of ambivalence that I await news regarding marriage from the Supreme Court. I feel we are at the edge of another one of those uncanny thresholds—that the future is sneaking up on me again. At my most pessimistic, I fear that this decision, along with the appearance of PrEP, is a sign of some sort of Freudian repetition cycle the whole country is in, in which marriage equality is always being fought for and decided, and AIDS is always the ground for advances in treatment instead of a cure—all while these other very serious issues also need attention, and we fight forever over the same inch of ground.

 

IF I WERE TO WRITE A NOVEL ABOUT A GAY MAN LIKE MYSELF in the future—let’s say the year 2035—his ability to marry another man, whatever the Supreme Court ruling, wouldn’t be in question—it could even be the conventional choice, the one his friends laugh at even as they attend because they love him. He might even be descended from two generations of officially recognized gay marriages. “Gay,” “Queer,” “Straight,” “Same-Sex”: these would be deeply retrograde terms—orthodoxies to be resisted, or historical fictions, even. Given the press of overpopulation on us now, I could imagine my character as having chosen a childless, single queerness, and could depict this as the green choice, sexually and emotionally. The rearing of children could be something that is done only rarely, especially given its increasing cost. More and more, having children is something only the wealthy can afford in the United States, so in 2035 it wouldn’t be science fiction to imagine an entrenched oligarchy as the only class legally allowed to have them. In a political twist, China’s one-child policy could be seen retroactively as both visionary and not having gone far enough.

My protagonist could find the process of questioning his sexuality and gender as normal as we now find deciding what to watch on television. He might have no single sexual identification—omnisexuality—and that could be the overwhelmingly mainstream norm. Or he could be a part of an elite group of wealthy gay men, all of them seronegative and residing in an intentional community sexually sealed off from anyone who can’t pass a credit check and an HIV test.

Marrying more than one person at the same time might also be possible for him within this system, especially if marriage is finally seen as the economic system it is—with fundamentalist Mormonism as something of a model for the legal future queer, but more like if the sister wives all ran away with each other and set up a home together. Or maybe my protagonist lives closeted inside a Christian radical white supremacist plantation state, complete with death camps for sexual deviants, married to a woman who is, perhaps, closeted herself.

Yet, when I think of the future for myself in real life and not fiction, I stick to what I know. Which is almost nothing. My hope is that marriage equality queers marriage, rather than straightening queers—that we reinvent it and keep reinventing it, and sexuality is finally acknowledged as having no inherent moral value except, perhaps, when it is ignored. But my generation never planned for this. Many of the men and women who might have showed us how to grow old while being queer are dead, and most of us, well, we didn’t think we’d live this long, either. One of the most punk rock things I can think of now for me and my friends from ACT UP, is for us to grow old with the people we love, however we choose to do it. Getting to be an old queer is our next revolution.

If I am alive in 2035, I will be 67, and I can easily imagine myself stepping down from a plane in Berlin to begin my retirement with Dustin, who, while he doesn’t quite believe in marriage and may never marry me, will also never leave me. In Germany, our immigration status as a domestically partnered couple is today protected in a way it wouldn’t be, say, if we were moving to the United States. And given the way marriage equality is in some states delegitimizing domestic partnership as a path to shared benefits, it could be that, at that time, we would be moving to avoid being forced to marry.

If I’m still in the United States, most likely, I’d be in the Catskills, having expanded the hunting cottage I just bought with my partner and our friends, Kera and Meredith, into something like a retirement compound. Kera and Meredith’s son Theo will be 23 by then, have just graduated college, if we still educate our young that way. Dustin and I are his gay uncles, and I will have taught him to pee standing up in the woods—we’re working on it now—and he won’t probably even remember it.

The future I can’t imagine, but want to imagine, is one where we’re all at peace, working toward something else. I find myself wanting to ask the religious right, which has fought so hard, all my life, to demonize me, if that is really the best use of their time on this earth. Because, as I think of my future, I think of all that I could have done if I hadn’t been fighting for the right to the basic freedoms we’re all supposed to enjoy as Americans—freedoms gay people have never fully had. I hope we find some way to live together in peace. I just don’t yet see how.

Alexander Chee’s new novel, The Queen of the Night, is forthcoming in February 2016 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 

http://www.newrepublic.com/article/122091/future-queer-where-gay-america-going-next?utm_content=bufferf2488&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

Dylann Roof may have been radicalized by the website of a group associated with southern GOP politicians

Dylann Roof

Dylann Roof, 21, allegedly opened fire on a Bible study Wednesday night at the culturally significant church, assassinating state senator, civil rights leader and pastor Clementa Pinckney and eight others.

In a rambling manifesto uncovered by Twitter users @HenryKrinkle and @EMQuangel, the author, who is allegedly Roof,  discusses his hatred of groups including Jewish and Latino people. But his deepest hatred is reserved for African-Americans.

After noting his animosity over the Trayvon Martin protests, Roof writes:

But more importantly this prompted me to type in the words “black on White crime” into Google, and I have never been the same since that day. The first website I came to was the Council of Conservative Citizens. There were pages upon pages of these brutal black on White murders.

As of Saturday, the Council of Conservative Citizens’ (CCC) website had either been taken down or was experiencing technical problems and couldn’t be accessed. But internet archive site Wayback has a copy of it online.

The website is a hodgepodge of re-written media stories with facts either twisted or fabricated to give the viewer an impression that there is a constant barrage of black-on-white crime.

“Fifteen new black on white murders: Where is the outrage from the mainstream media?” a May 15 headline screams.

“Racial spree shooting in Texas, 1 killed, 2 injured:
Beautiful 19 year old woman slaughtered in racial hate crime attack,” reads another from May 6.

The concentration of stories that cause the false perception whites are under attack by blacks is significant, because Roof told his victims, “I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.”

The SPLC procured a list of 38 politicians, most of whom are from Mississippi and all but three of whom are Republican, who had been involved with the CCC between 2000 and 2004. Some, like Republicans John Moore and Dean Kirby of Mississippi, are still in office.

According to the SPLC:

The CCC is the modern reincarnation of the old White Citizens Councils, which were formed in the 1950s and 1960s to battle school desegregation in the South. Today, the CCC dedicates itself to educating whites on what it sees as an epidemic of black on white crime in the United States. The CCC website has been a touchstone for the radical right to get “educated” on this issue – and it appears this was the first stop for Roof on his dive down the white nationalist rabbit hole.

This story has been updated.

 

http://www.rawstory.com/2015/06/dylann-roof-was-radicalized-by-the-website-of-a-group-that-has-been-associated-with-gop-politicians/#.VYXmxYjrPB8.facebook

When the world was reinvented: Harry Truman, Joseph Stalin & the end of World War II

Historian Michael Neiberg tells Salon about the perils of the postwar era & the limits of the what great men can do

When the world was reinvented: Harry Truman, Joseph Stalin & the end of World War II

Winston Churchill, Harry S.Truman, and Josef Stalin pose in Potsdam, Germany, July 23, 1945. (Credit: AP)

Up until the second decade of the 20th century, Europe had been home to magnificent feats of cultural brilliance, architecture splendor, and a central hub of cosmopolitan ideas. By May 1945, however, following the surrender of Nazi Germany, most of the continent lay in ruins. Food and fuel were extremely scarce. Britain was on the verge of bankruptcy. Germany, meanwhile, had been reduced to a giant pile of rubble.

Millions of refugees roamed the continent in search of a future that looked extremely bleak: They were often hungry, homeless, and stateless. For some, there wasn’t even a single relative left alive to try and pick up the pieces with. The greatest war mankind had ever witnessed threatened to wipe out western civilization, and replace it instead with a utopian barbarism that had no time for human empathy.

In July 1945, three of the world’s leading statesmen from the Allied side — Harry Truman, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin — all met up in a quiet Berlin suburb: The aim of the Potsdam Conference was to negotiate a lasting global peace to a conflict that had essentially begun in 1914. If Europe was to have any sort of lasting stability — economically, politically, and militarily — it needed an immediate solution. All the delegates arrived determined to learn from the mistakes their predecessors had made when the Treaty of Versailles was signed in Paris in 1919.

In Potsdam: The End of World War II and the Remaking of Europe,” the historian Michael Neiberg captures in a dramatic fashion the numerous twists and turns of what was to become the most historic and important diplomatic meeting in 20th century global geopolitics.

I caught up with Neiberg recently to ask him about the book. Over an hour long interview, we discussed the limits of “the great man theory” of history;  debated the pros and cons of the Pax Americana vision that emerged from the Bretton Woods Conference in 1944; we were both equally surprised that the Holocaust never even got a passing mention among the delegates of Potsdam. What follows is a lightly edited and condensed transcript of that conversation.

How much did the shadow of the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 loom over Potsdam in 1945? 

Well it was the First World War that had shaped all of these men. So at Potsdam they were trying to figure out what had gone wrong in Paris 26 years earlier. They were also asking what were the basic fundamental mistakes that those who had gone before them had made? And they did a pretty good job: they had reset the boarders of Europe so that the political/ social/ ethnic lines matched up pretty well. They had more or less fixed the problem about what to do with Germany, settling the reparations issue, albeit in a controversial way, by dividing the country up. But fundamentally, they understood this was a problem that stretched back not just to 1939, but to 1914.

This book argues for some limits to be called on the so called “great man” theory of history. And yet many powerful and important men appear in it. What do you mean by this? 

History is always a mixture of what the individual can do and what circumstances constrains them to do. For a historian, Potsdam is almost like a laboratory. Because the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt brought in Harry Truman. And the British election in the middle of the conference removed Winston Churchill and brought in Clement Attlee.

So you had people who, (a) never thought they were going to be in that position; and (b) lacked the kind of world presence/dominance that their predecessors had. And yet everyone who watched Attlee and Truman made the same observation: The change in personalities didn’t change the fundamental economic, geopolitical, and historical reality.

A New York Times reporter, Ann O’ Hare McCormick, wrote at the time that Berlin was like a graveyard. I would also add to that: The graveyard was setting the limits on what the undertakers could do. That’s not to say that individuals aren’t important in history — I think they are — but it’s important to understand the way that larger structural factors shape just what those individuals can do.

The Bretton Woods Conference of 1944 reflected many American post-war goals: namely global free trade and the creation of worldwide markets. Many on the left, especially today, would argue that Bretton Woods actually created a global economy where many vulnerable countries lost their autonomy and merely became slaves to a new world order — where global institutions like the World Bank and the IMF dictated their terms. Would you agree with this thesis? 

Well, there are two things going on here. Firstly, American officials at the time were drawing parallels of 1944 to 1919: When Woodrow Wilson went to Europe with a lot of ideals, but with very few instruments of power. And Bretton Woods is one way Americans wanted to fix that. Secondly, the United States had an awareness that it was the only county that had the economic resources to rebuild Europe in the post-war era. This is where the Marshall Plan essentially came from. There was obviously an enormous amount of self-interest here too.

Many economic historians argue that the reason Bretton Woods came apart a couple of decades later was because it had served its purpose. At the end of the Second World War, the United States was the only economy that was capable of doing something like the Marshall Plan, as well as building parts of China, and being able to offer money to the Soviet block, even though they turned it down.

The British economist John Maynard Keynes famously used the words “swindle” to talk about Bretton Woods. So everybody understood that it was going to benefit the United States tremendously. That said, Americans argued that it was the only way to avoid the economic crisis that had drastically occurred during the 1930s. And it was the memory of Versailles that was driving that.

How to deal with Germany was obviously a crucial aspect of  the Potsdam conference. Was there a general consensus among the Big Three?  

The real problem in 1945 regarding Germany was, (a) who is really to blame for this? Is it the German people? That is to say: If you devastate Germany are you in fact punishing the wrong people. And, (b) what is best way going forward to try and re-build a peaceful Europe?

Again you have to go back to Versailles in 1919, where the Allies devastated Germany. However, they also left Germany strong enough to do something about it. And that was a fundamental mistake. So what they did at the end of the Second World War was to apply hard power — they divided Germany, reduced the size of it, occupied it, and kept the army down.

But they also applied liberal solutions too: They tied western Germany into the international economy, and into a wider alliance like NATO, which allowed it to have a military force. But at the same time they didn’t allow Germany to operate that military force independently.

What was the reasoning behind this?

They thought that if you give Germany enough time, hopefully enough Germans can come to the fore who won’t believe [the Nazi ideology] that their parents and grandparents believed. And that worked. Germany may be the most dominant power in Europe today; but most Europeans — outside of Athens of course — aren’t particularly worried about Germany as they might have been in, say, the 1930s.

But presumably you have an interest as a historian in understanding why the Germans voted for the Nazi party in the first place? 

Well it’s a tough question to deal with because you are contrasting rationality with emotion. Did the Germans vote for the Nazis because the Germans are a wicked evil people? Or did they vote for the Nazis because the economic and political circumstances made Germany such a pariah that they really had no other choice?

And all of the leaders of Potsdam were wrestling with that question, and also asking: What is the best way to go forward?

There was something called The Morgenthau Plan [proposed by the Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Morgenthau, in 1944], which argued for making the central government of Germany almost powerless. It wanted to take away the industrial power and utterly devastate it. But there were others, mostly the British in fact, who said, no, what you want to do is to rebuild Germany, and by extension, they can then run the economy of Europe. Questions many asked at the end of both World Wars included: What is the fundamental problem? Is it German people? Is it their form of government? Or is it an economic problem?

Is this is a distinctly American way of looking at international relations, though, because they had a certain distance from the emotive elements of the war in the eastern front. And I guess the Russians didn’t, right?

Yes, I think so. Americans are more likely to say, look, this is the government’s fault, not the people’s. The Russians had a very different approach to that. When 20 million of your citizens have just been killed by a country that remains on your boarder, things are, naturally enough, going to look very different.

Why was the conversation about the Holocaust so carefully avoided in Potsdam? Was anti-semitism an issue and did this come from the Soviets?

Actually, it seems the anti-semitism was predominantly created in the American State Department, where there was a real desire to avoid talking about what happened to the Jews across Europe. It appears that each country had its own vested interest for not talking about what happened. For the Russians, Stalin was quite clear: He didn’t want the suffering of any Soviet citizen taking precedent over any other Soviet citizen. His view was that 20 million people died, therefore they were not going to be separating their suffering apart from the other deaths. There is a certain logic in that, I suppose. The British didn’t want to talk about it of course because of Palestine. They saw Palestine as a British issue, and they really wanted to avoid the United States and Russia at Potsdam advising them on what they ought to do.

Is there lessons of Versailles also coming into the equation once again here too?

Yes. In Paris in 1919 every country that had a grievance came to to lay it out for the Big Three. But at Potsdam in 1945 they decided that wasn’t going to happen. Their main priority was to deal with the issue of Germany and Poland. This surprised me enormously when I started doing the research for this book. I just automatically expected that they would have talked about the concentration camps, and about the barbarity of the thing they had just defeated. But they didn’t.

How important was the discussion of the Manhattan Project at Potsdam, in terms of how it would shape the paranoia and fear that would stoke Cold War politics for the coming decades? 

It appears Truman tried to present the subject of the atomic bomb very casually.

He was saying: We have this new weapon and we are going to use it on Japan. But it seems quite clear that the knowledge of the atomic bomb scared the Soviet leaders the most. They knew despite their victory, and all of their sacrifice, the atomic bomb could negate everything. It was the American use of two nuclear weapons, though, rather than anything that happened at Potsdam, that really reinforced Soviet paranoia about their own security. This began a cycle of real mistrust during the Cold War. And of course it forced Stalin to increase the speed and tempo of Soviet research also.

How important was the fate of the Russian casualties in World War II in accelerating the paranoia of Cold War politics? 

The talk of just how much the Russians actually suffered only got multiplied during the Cold War. And the Americans and the British tended to downplay what World War II did to Russia. The figure of 20 million people is almost impossible for a British person or an American to get their heads around.

The numbers are just mind boggling. Every time Poland was brought up, Stalin would slam his fists and say: Did your armies liberate Poland, Mr. Churchill? Basically what Stalin was getting at was this: It was our blood that made Poland possible, so don’t come in here and tell us what kind of Poland it’s going to be. The Americans and British didn’t like it. But they really had no choice but to accept it.

In kitsch we trust: lies, euphemisms and politics

By Chris Wright On May 8, 2015

Post image for In kitsch we trust: lies, euphemisms and politicsCollateral damage, regime change, right-to-work: nice words covering up nasty truths, depoliticizing social reality and camouflaging power structures.

Artwork by Kenneth Tin-Kin Hung

In a popular video on YouTube, George Carlin aims his caustic wit at the dread political scourge of euphemisms. “I don’t like words that hide the truth. I don’t like words that conceal reality. I don’t like euphemisms, or euphemistic language,” he kicks off his rant.

Our “public discourse” is, and to some extent always has been, polluted by an epidemic of euphemisms. This category overlaps with the category of political correctness, but it typically serves rightwing, not leftwing, ends. It also overlaps with kitsch, the category that Milan Kundera brilliantly analyzes in The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Kitsch is “the absolute denial of shit, in both the literal and the figurative senses of the word; kitsch excludes everything from its purview which is essentially unacceptable in human existence.”

The essence of this definition applies equally to euphemisms. Both kitsch and euphemisms serve to shield us from unpleasant truths — in other words to disguise reality.

Kitsch is everywhere where fake prettiness — or pretty fakeness — silences authenticity. It is at social gatherings, cocktail parties, academic conferences; it saturates interactions between salespeople and customers, and inspires the decor of every shop in the mall. It is the impulse that sustains the tourism industry. It is the regulating principle of institutional norms, whether in the intellectual, the political, the cultural, or the business world.

Kitsch is what coheres a consumer capitalist society, with its ubiquitous product-advertisements and self-advertisements (for the self has become but a product to be sold). In fact, power-centers in any advanced society will impose a regime of political and ideological kitsch on the population, for power has to lie in order to extract some semblance of consent from its subjects.

Kitsch, in short, while pretending to exalt all that is wonderful and pleasant in life, manifests the anti-human. Where social atomization happens, so does kitsch. Where power happens — and bureaucracy, and the state, and “the free market,” and atomizing totalitarian tendencies of whatever sort — so does kitsch. And in the realm of political kitsch, the use of euphemisms is indispensable.

George Carlin mentions a few. Consider the evolution of the old, honest, direct World War I concept “shell shock”. In World War II shell shock morphed into the more innocuous term battle fatigue, then during the Korean War it was called operational exhaustion, only to become post-traumatic stress disorder in the Vietnam era, or simply PTSD now. So, from shell shock to… an acronym.

This history exemplifies the role of power-structures in the ideological sphere, namely, to squeeze the life out of life — and out of language, and out of dissent, and out of anything that can potentially disrupt the smooth functioning of institutional relations. This is as true of academia as of politics. The imperative is to propagate appealing myths at all times; but if it proves necessary to acknowledge the existence of something negative, at the very least change its name so that it becomes inoffensive and boring. (Ideally, put a positive spin on it as well, so the bad thing magically becomes good.) Eradicate every vestige of humanity; that is the imperative.

We can all easily think of examples. Torture is enhanced interrogation; slaughtered children are collateral damage; a coup d’état is regime change; terrorism we carry out is counterterrorism; invasion of another country is self-defense; destroying a country is stabilizing it; and imposing reactionary regimes on hapless populations is spreading democracy.

Job-destroyers are job-creators; the right-to-scrounge is called the right-to-work; the destruction of public education is “education reform”; destroying social programs and the welfare state is “austerity”; massive corporate welfare is the free market; workers’ mutually destructive competition for jobs and wages is a flexible labor market; renting yourself to a corporation is finding employment; police terrorism is called unnecessary force. The list could go on for pages.

But it isn’t only current political realities that are whitewashed. Rather, a country’s entire history is effaced, replaced with a mess of kitsch and euphemisms. This may be a truism, and we may know it, but it remains very difficult to extricate ourselves from all the subtle wordplays and techniques of indoctrination that have been used to make us think well of our society and its history.

For instance, the recently published book The Half Has Never Been Told, by Edward Baptist, at times may well strike the reader with the force of revelation, while simultaneously embarrassing him for having overlooked the truths it brings to light. Why do we use such bland terms as plantations and slaveholders? Because they’re euphemisms — though we don’t even know it.

Plantations were simply slave-labor camps, and we should follow Baptist in consistently calling them such. (The word “plantation” is actually appealing, quaint, pretty, conjuring images of a lovely countryside ruled benevolently by a paternalistic lord.) “Slaveholders” were enslavers, and we should call them such. Slaves were constantly tortured; that was part of their daily routine, to force them to work harder and submit to white supremacy. Half the country was a torture machine for slave labor, while the other half financed and profited from it.

The kitsch exists on a broader scale too. As Baptist makes clear — and as we all should have explicitly recognized long ago — slavery was not some marginal, economically backward thing; it was the very foundation of the modern American economy and the global industrial economy. It was an astonishingly efficient and effective way of producing cotton, such that from the perspective of economic logic it was irrational for slavery to be made illegal. Nothing is more modern than slavery and the economically productive dehumanization it entails.

The funny thing about kitsch, though, is that sometimes the truth is buried in it, peeking out ironically, only requiring a bit of excavation. Barack Obama, Marco Rubio and their ilk are right: America is an exceptional country. No other country was founded on, or owes its prosperity to, wholesale genocide of the native population together with centuries of enslavement of human beings. (It’s exceptional in other ways too, though they probably aren’t what Obama has in mind.)

It’s hard to look at one’s own country semi-objectively, because one is immersed in a miasma of kitsch and euphemisms. They are absolutely everywhere; they are the air we breathe as citizens, workers, and consumers. But if we can cut through the thick poisonous atmosphere of deceit and indoctrination, we may find that everything is upside down, and appearance is the opposite of reality.

We may find that in our society, as in a stagnant pond, the scum floats to the top. We’ll realize, with the historian Albert Prago, that “in an amoral society, the amoral man is best qualified to succeed.” Perhaps we’ll learn to look with contempt on the leaders and the “successful” — the institutionally obedient, the non-questioners, and the greedy, the vulgarly ambitious, the rich — and admire the downtrodden for their struggles and their stoic survival.

So, whenever a person in a position of authority opens his mouth, we should ask: “What is the reality that is being kitschified here?”

Chris Wright is a doctoral candidate in U.S. labor history, and the author ofWorker Cooperatives and Revolution: History and Possibilities in the United States and Notes of an Underground Humanist. Visit his website here.

 

http://roarmag.org/2015/05/kitsch-carlin-euphemism-politics-2/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+roarmag+%28ROAR+Magazine%29

Pentagon, DEA and Private Companies Conspiring to Track Everything You Do

Guess what the malware software is really for?

image00

Yet another report has surfaced describing how tools created by the companies selling software that can damage and hack into people’s computers are being deployed by U.S. security services. While the coverage surrounding this story focuses primarily on federal agencies it’s important to step back for a moment and view the big picture. In particular, looking at who builds, operates, and profits from mass surveillance technology offers insight into the nature of the global panopticon.

A report published by Privacy International as well as an article posted by Vice Motherboard clearly show that both the DEA and the United States Army have long-standing relationships with Hacking Team, an Italian company that’s notorious for selling malware to any number of unsavory characters.

Federal records indicate that the DEA and Army purchased Hacking Team’sRemote Control System (RCS) package. RCS is a rootkit, a software backdoor with lots of bells and whistles. It’s a product that facilitates a covert foothold on infected machines so intruders can quietly make off with sensitive data. The aforementioned sensitive data includes encryption keys. In fact, Hacking Team has an RCS brochure that tells potential customers: “What you need is a way to bypass encryption, collect relevant data out of any device, and keep monitoring your targets wherever they are, even outside your monitoring domain.” Note: Readers interested in nitty-gritty details about RCS can check out the Manuals online.

It’s public knowledge that other federal agencies like the FBI and the CIA have become adept at foiling encryption. Yet this kind of subversion doesn’t necessarily bother high tech luminaries like Bruce Schneier, who believe that spying is “perfectly reasonable” as long as it’s targeted. Ditto that for Ed Snowden. Schneier and Snowden maintain that covert ops, shrouded by layers of official secrecy, are somehow compatible with democracy just so long as they’re narrow in scope.

But here’s the catch: RCS is designed and marketed as a means for mass collection. It violates the targeted surveillance condition. Specifically, a Hacking Team RCS brochure proudly states:

“’Remote Control System’ can monitor from a few and up to hundreds of thousands of targets. The whole system can be managed by a single easy to use interface that simplifies day by day investigation activities.”

Does this sound like a product built for targeted collection?

So there you have it. Subverting encryption en masse compliments of Hacking Team. The fact that there’s an entire industry of companies just like this should give one pause as there are unsettling ramifications regarding the specter of totalitarian control.

Corporate America is Mass Surveillance

Throughout the Snowden affair there’s a theme that recurs. It appeared recently in a foreword written by Glenn Greenwald for Tom Engelhardt’s bookShadow Government:

“I really don’t think there’s any more important battle today than combating the surveillance state [my emphasis]. Ultimately, the thing that matters most is that the rights that we know we have as human beings are rights that we exercise.”

There’s a tendency to frame mass surveillance in terms of the state. As purely a result of government agencies like the CIA and NSA. The narrative preferred by the far right is one which focuses entirely on the government (the so-called “surveillance state”) as the sole culprit, completely ignoring the corporate factions that fundamentally shape political decision making.

American philosopher John Dewey once observed that “power today resides in control of the means of production, exchange, publicity, transportation and communication. Whoever owns them rules the life of the country,” even under the pretense of democratic structuresi.

There are some 1300 billionaires in the United States who can testify to thisfact. As can anyone following the developments around the secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Dewey’s observation provides a conceptual basis for understanding how business interests drive the global surveillance apparatus. Mass surveillance is a corporate endeavor because the people who inevitably drive decisions are the same ones who control the resources. For example, the backbone of the internet itself consists of infrastructure run by Tier 1 providers like Verizon and Level 3 Communications. These companies are in a perfect position to track users and that’s exactly what they do.

Furthermore when spying is conducted it’s usually executed, in one form or another, by business interests. Approximately 70 percent of the national intelligence budget end up being channeled to defense contractors. Never mind that the private sector’s surveillance machinery dwarfs the NSA’s as spying on users is an integral part of high tech’s business model. Internet companies like Google operate their services by selling user information to the data brokers. The data broker industry, for example, generates almost $200 billion a year in revenue. That’s well over twice the entire 2014 U.S.intelligence budget.

From a historical vantage point it’s imperative to realize that high tech companies are essentially the offspring of the defense industry. This holds true even today as companies like Google are heavily linked with the Pentagon. For decades (going back to the days of Crypto AG) the private sector has collaborated heavily with the NSA’s in its campaign of mass subversion: the drive to insert hidden back doors and weaken encryption protocols across the board. Companies have instituted “design changes” that make computers and network devices “exploitable.” It’s also been revealed that companies like Microsoft have secret agreements with U.S. security services to provide information on unpublished vulnerabilities in exchange for special benefits like access to classified intelligence.

In a nutshell: contrary to talking points that depict hi-tech companies as our saviors, they’re more often accomplices if not outright perpetrators of mass surveillance. And you can bet that CEOs will devote significant resources towards public relations campaigns aimed at obscuring this truth.

A parting observation: the current emphasis on Constitutional freedom neglects the other pillar of the Constitution: equality. Concentrating intently on liberty while eschewing the complementary notion of equality leads to the sort of ugly practices that preceded the Civil War. In fact there are those who would argue that society is currently progressing towards something worse, a realityby the way that the financial elite are well aware of. When the public’s collective misery reaches a tipping point, and people begin to mobilize, the digital panopticon of the ruling class will be leveraged to preserve social control. They’ll do what they’ve always done, tirelessly work to maintain power and impose hierarchy.

NOTES:

i The Later Works of John Dewey, 1925-1953, Volume 9: 1933-1934, Essays, Reviews, Miscellany, and A Common Faith, Southern Illinois University Press, 2008, page 76.

 

Bill Blunden is the author of several books, includingThe Rootkit Arsenal” andBehold a Pale Farce: Cyberwar, Threat Inflation, and the Malware-Industrial Complex.” He is the lead investigator at Below Gotham Labs.

http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/latest-outrageous-example-pentagon-dea-and-private-companies-conspiring-track?akid=13088.265072.W5QXWE&rd=1&src=newsletter1036073&t=19

The nobodies have lost their best chronicler

By Raúl Zibechi On April 27, 2015

Post image for The nobodies have lost their best chroniclerThe Uruguayan writer Raúl Zibechi commemorates his friend and compatriot Eduardo Galeano, who passed away this month after a long battle with cancer.

Spanish original published by La Vaca, translated by Leonidas Oikonomakis.

Whoever listens to the heartbeats coming from below will feel their pains, share their smiles and tears. Whoever makes the effort to understand them without interpreting them, to accept them without judging them, can win a place in the hearts of those below.

Eduardo Galeano traveled the most diverse geographies of Latin America by train, on the back of a mule and on foot, moving around by the same means as those from below. He wasn’t trying to mimic them but rather to do something more than that: to experience, underneath his own skin, the feelings of others — in order to revive them in his texts and help them escape anonymity.

Eduardo was a simple man, committed to the common people, to the nobodies, to the oppressed. His loyalty lay with the people of flesh and bones, with the men and women who live and suffer. It was a loyalty much deeper than ideological attachment, which can always change depending on the interests of the moment. The pains from below, he taught us, cannot be negotiated, nor can they be represented. They cannot even be explained even by the best writer. And the same goes for their hopes.

Among Eduardo’s many lessons, it is necessary to hold on to his meticulous attachment to the truth. He stumbled upon these truths far away from the worldly noise of the media, inside the hungry eyes of the indigenous girl, in the worn feet of the farmer, in the innocent smile of the female street vendor — where the nobodies speak their truths every single day, without witnesses.

He never had a minor doubt about exposing those responsible for the poverty and the hunger, as  he did in his chronicles on the crisis of Uruguayan industry as the 20-year-old editor of the weekly Marcha, one of the first and most important exponents of critical and engaged journalism in Uruguay. In those chronicles he would denounce the powerful by name, surname and characteristics. Without taking back his word — because, as he liked to say, “the media prostitute the word.”

But it was his reporting on the struggles and the resistances of those below that left an early, indelible mark. Like his piece entitled “From rebellion and beyond,” in March 1964, which reported on the second march of Uruguay’s sugarcane workers. His gaze stopped at doña Marculina Piñeiro, who was so old that she had forgotten her own age, and to the more than 90 children that had surrounded her with admiration. “They wanted to beat us into submission through hunger. But what would we lose with hunger? We are used to it,” he was told by the wife, mother, and granddaughter of sugarcane workers.

His pen was shaped by the everyday lives of the underprivileged, but it wasn’t enough for Galeano to simply portray their pain. He got engaged in painting — with lively colors — the dignity of their steps, and the anger that was capable of overcoming both the repression and the torment. In each and every one of his articles, the people who embodied the suffering and the torment would be at center stage — perhaps because he was obsessed with the indifference of the rest, which he considered “a lifestyle” whose protective layer we should destroy, perhaps that’s why he wrote his articles.

Among the many homages he received in his life, he had the privilege to see  Galeano (his surname) being adopted as a  nickname by the  teacher of theEscuelita Zapatista José Luis Solís López. It is very probable that the teacher was not referring to the author. In any case, Eduardo and Zapatismo met and got to know each other right away, as if they had been waiting for it their entire lives. He did not leave us a program or a list of demands, but rather an ethics of being — being from below and on the left.

Eduardo Galeano was in La Realidad, Chiapas in August 1996. He participated in one of the roundtables of the Intercontinental Gathering for Humanity and against Neoliberalism. He spoke little, was very clear, and said a lot. In those days, and in the days that followed, he planted Galeanos, disseminated Galeanos — so that now there are Galeanos walking around to brandish his dignified and Galeano-like rage. The nobodies of all ages are carrying him in their hearts.

Raúl Zibechi is a Uruguayan journalist, activist and political theorist.

 

http://roarmag.org/2015/04/raul-zibechi-eduardo-galeano/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+roarmag+%28ROAR+Magazine%29