Driven

Drive is disturbing. We debated afterwards: is the hyperviolence unnecessary? Should such depictions be censored to ward off further glorification of violence? Is the film art? What are the ethics of recommendation? Whose responsibility is it to consider the possible effects of viewing this film?

“Are you going to blog about this movie?”
“Absolutely not!”

Yet here I am.

Drive is disturbing.  We debated afterwards: is the hyperviolence unnecessary? Should such depictions be censored to ward off further glorification of violence? Is the film art? What are the ethics of recommendation? Whose responsibility is it to consider the possible effects of viewing this film?

Scenes are consistently overdone. The musical score is outrageously sappy, underscoring the impossible juxtaposition of living a decently social life in the maw of the machine. The un-named principal character combines two extreme masculine ideals: he is both extraordinarily moral and primally violent – a classic hero stripped to the essence, a man of few words and stark actions.

The anonymity of the principal character represents everyone; even the innocent among us could become implicated in one way or another with the criminality of today’s society. At each and every moment we are at risk of being pulled in, taken down, consumed or killed by the impersonal clash of animalistic jockeying for position, power, status in whatever currency holds forth in the immediate situation. What can we do, mere individuals in a vast churning system of impersonalized rules, but drive by our own code?

The film presents no antedote, offers no salve or suggestion of change. The only response is to be driven to beat the course, to instinctively react in the instant, make the right move, face the consequences, turn and turn and turn again, speed up slow down nail the precise pace and time lane selection to come out – how? Victorious yet irreparably damaged. “I’m going somewhere… I won’t be able to come back.”

I am reminded of a scene in Control Room, a short while after the US Central Command’s Press Officer, Lieutenant Josh Rushing, realizes the humanity of Iraqis – the families and friends and compatriots of the enemy combatants – those people on the other side of the war. Lt Rushing muses that, unfortunately, we don’t yet live in a world that can do without war. Drive depicts war at the civilian level. Drive celebrates violence by suggesting its inevitability, and glorifies the performance of violence by cloaking it in a noble character.

Bullshit.

Humanity can do better than be driven by the machine. We built this system; we can re-engineer it.

inequities in coverage

The new UMass Journalism Department weblog documents the disturbing trend in hard news staffing/investigative journalism, linking to an article that contexts the decline of trained journalistic staffing in the age of technological expansion. The embedded example of the linked reference source is powerful and poignant, but while an individual Palestinian enacted terror in Jerusalem, the Israeli military held an entire Palestinian town under curfew in an attempt to minimize civil protests against more construction of the wall.
I received an email Monday: “Urgent!!! International Support Needed In Ni’lin.” An email report yesterday from the Ni’lin Popular Committee Against the Apartheid Wall clarifies that the curfew is over but not – as claimed by an Israeli military spokesperson – because of negotiations or mutual agreements concerning the issues at stake.
Here is where reporting gets tricky, huh? The intention to illustrate a very basic point plays into a much larger – and problematic – pattern, in which alternative perspectives on particular dilemmas are represented disproportionately. The fact of the created media/news statistic (a percentage of reports roughly “pro” Israel and a percentage or reports roughly “pro” Palestinian) perpetuates the majority-minority stances already rooted in historical trajectories, thereby centering the discourse on the most sharply defined edges of the conflict instead of – what I, personally, would like to see journalism do more intentionally – creating representations that allow people to shift from entrenched positions because alternatives are opened up.

April 25, 1945

Godwin this

Posted by Eric Rauchway


Steph’s notes at bottom; lettered in [bold].

On this day in 1945, only three days after the occupation of their city by French troops, the remaining full professors of the University of Freiburg assembled to elect new officers and to restore the customs under which they had operated before 1933, when their faculty, racially purged by the Nazis, elected as rector the philosopher Martin Heidegger. (All details here come from Hugo Ott; see more at the footnote.)1 [a]

This is not a parable or an analogy. It is a story of one episode in which civil authorities and academic governing bodies reckoned with a disastrous crossover between scholarship and politics.
One of the first orders of business for the reassembled professors was the question of what to do about Nazis among their colleagues. They chartered an internal review committee for the purpose, and tried to keep jurisdiction over this process, without success. City authorities were conducting their own reviews, and they designated Heidegger’s house, among others, as a “Party residence” to be requisitioned for use. The university protested, based on the opinion of legal scholar Franz Böhm (an anti-Nazi dismissed from his post during Hitler’s regime) that for “establishing political guilt” one needed “a proper court of law.”
The French occupation authorities had actual jurisdiction over such cases, and they appointed a trio of professors who had been imprisoned under the Nazis to act and speak for the university. These three became the nucleus of the university’s denazification commission, which in due course all but let Heidegger off. Their report in September 1945 acknowledged that he had stirred up the students against “reactionary” professors, that he

played an active part in transforming the university constitution
in line with the “leadership principle” and in introducing the outward
forms of Hitlerism (e.g. the Hitler salute…) into academic life … he
penalized or sacrificed persons who were opposed to the Nazis, and
even contributed directly to National Socialist election propaganda….

But he had been rector only a year before falling out with the party; as his onetime friend Karl Jaspers would later write, “the special brand of National Socialism he concocted for himself had precious little to do with the real thing.”
The report concluded that as “[i]t would be a serious and lamentable loss” for someone as famous as Heidegger to go. He should do a limited amount of teaching, and no administration or examination. The French military government declared Heidegger “disponible,” which was all but harmless.
One professor and member of the commission, Adolf Lampe, dissented. Along with Böhm and another anti-Nazi, Walter Eucken, Lampe began protesting formally. Böhm, the lawyer who had from the start urged a regard for procedure, noted that other academics had already suffered harsher punishments for their connection with the Nazis, and Heidegger should not therefore get off lightly; justice, as Böhm saw it, would have failed if it reached this inequitable conclusion. He wrote in October,

it makes me very bitter to think that one of the principal
intellectual architects of the political betrayal of Germany’s
universities … should merely have been subjected to the stricture of
“disponibilité”, and clearly feels no need at all to answer for the
consequences of his actions.

Observing Heidegger going about his business, agreeing to give lectures and generally enjoying the privileges of academic life again, Lampe concurred: “It must therefore be concluded that Herr Heidegger&emdash;contrary to what is assumed in the report placed before us by our denazification commission&emdash;has not undergone that radical change in his political thinking…. In the absence of such a change we had no business to exonerate Herr Heidegger….”
The French occupation authorities tried to defuse the growing crisis by offering to move Heidegger to the university at Tübingen. But Tübingen would not have him. So with the government unwilling to do much, the case against Heidegger became, Hugo Ott writes, “a purely internal affair” to the University of Freiburg.
Heidegger asked that the faculty consult the philosopher Karl Jaspers for his opinion. Jaspers had fallen out with Heidegger in the 1930s as Heidegger became more evidently enamored of Hitler and Nazism. Jaspers
wrote reluctantly but damningly, arguing

In our present situation the education of the younger generation
needs to be handled with the utmost responsibility and care. Total
academic freedom should be our ultimate goal, but this cannot be
achieved overnight. Heidegger’s mode of thinking, which seems to me to
be fundamentally unfree, dictatorial and uncommunicative, would have a
very damaging effect on students at the present time…. He should be
suspended from teaching duties for several years, after which there
should be a review of the situation based on his subsequent published
work and in the light of changing academic circumstances. The question
that must then be asked is whether the restoration of full academic
freedom is a justifiable risk, bearing in mind that views hostile to
the idea of the university, and potentially damaging to it when
propounded with intellectual distinction, may well be promoted in the
lecture room. Whether or not such a situation arises will depend on
the course of political events and the evolution of our civic spirit.

In sum Jaspers recommended Heidegger be pensioned off and permitted to publish, but not to teach. Full academic freedom required a marked recovery of the body politic, a restored civic spirit, and confidence in the resilience of the young.
In the middle of January, 1946&emdash;nine months after reconstituting itself&emdash;the University Senate largely adopted Jaspers’s views, denying Heidegger permission to teach, and saying he would be “expected to maintain a low profile at public functions and gatherings of the University.”
In December, 1946, the French military government went a bit further, denying Heidegger his pension, but changed its mind about that in May 1947. So the ban on Heidegger’s teaching stayed firm until 1949, when the Faculty of Philosophy persuaded the university Senate to lift it, though not by an overwhelming or unbitter vote, and Heidegger was clear to lecture in 1950-51.
From Ott’s account it appears that throughout the nine months it took to come to a resolution in the Heidegger case, university and government authorities influenced each other and that the opinions of academic experts within the academy&emdash;particularly Jaspers&emdash;carried a great deal of weight outside it. Heidegger’s critics within the university wanted him to pay a price as determined by a set of legitimate procedures. And they&emdash;especially Jaspers&emdash;weighed academic freedom in the balance, carefully enough to believe it merited support for Heidegger’s continued publishing career, but not for his teaching
career until society had recovered to the point where it could sustain the onslaught of his dictatorial mode of thought.

1Hugo Ott, Martin Heidegger: A Political Life, trans. Allan Blunden (London: HarperCollins, 1993); I’m drawing also on Mark Lilla, The Reckless Mind: Intellectuals in Politics (New York: New York Review Books, 2003) and Hans Otto Lenel, “The Life and Work of Franz Böhm,” European Journal of Law and Economics 3 (1996):301-307. Also, previously on CT.
Steph’s additional notes:

  • a) Ott’s book is critiqued by Richard Rorty, who recommends Safranski: Martin Heidegger: Between Good and Evil.
  • b) William Godwin (1756-1836) was the founder of philosophical anarchism. In his An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793) he argued that government is a corrupting force in society, perpetuating dependence and ignorance, but that it will be rendered increasingly unnecessary and powerless by the gradual spread of knowledge….
  • c) Comments ensue after the cross-posting to Crooked Timbers. John Yoo comes under vigorous attack.

“This is the year…”

Imagine the Angels of Bread

Change is always resisted. At the cellular level patterns of survival screech to continue unaltered. It is we, the thinking aggregate of living cells composed into consciousnesses with conscience who must impose a break with violence and the talk that spurs it on.

How NOT to end war

Israel and Palestine may be the world’s best example. News media repeats the fiction of “the Palestinians” as if Hamas and Fatah represent something in common. Hamas follows the breach of the Gaza Strip wall with Egypt with increased suicide bombings in Israel, and Israelis initiate attacks on Palestinian neighborhoods that are disturbingly like pogroms.
What happened to the peacemakers?
Where are those who know how to do dialogue?

Meanwhile, Navy Carrier Squadrons philosophize: “Move Along” –

when everything is wrong, we move along…
even when your hope is gone, move along move along just to make it through

and George W. Bush plays cheerleader:

Bush, who used his family connections to avoid Vietnam, told troops serving in Afghanistan on Thursday that he is “a little envious” of their adventure there, saying it was “in some ways romantic.”

Dialogue: Violence

UMass will host an extraordinary event in early April: Landscapes of Violence. I approach it with two trajectories, one from the Dialogue under Occupation conferences (DUO 1 in Chicago, 2006; DUO 2 in the West Bank, 2007). The “dialogue” of the DUO conferences is still
“young” (as in, “new” for us in conversation with each other), but I remain hopeful that we academics and activists will be the ones to learn to talk soldiers and politicians toward other tactics. If not us, who?
I am not sure if this event in December, “States of Exception, Surveillance and Population Management: The Case of Israel/Palestine,” is directly related to – or an outgrowth of – the work of DUO II participants, but the content certainly overlaps. Perhaps there is a dialogic trajectory we can build?
In considering the upcoming UMass conference, am also considering the students in the Group Dynamics course I’m teaching. Several of them mentioned concerns with a recent string of threats on campus (three messages, found in three different locations on different days, with similar content). Of course many in the campus community were affected by the shootings at Virginia Tech … this instances are not comparable to the systemic and horrible repetitions of violence being played out among Palestinians and Israelis (or, arguably, among Colombians – with/against FARC and/or the paramilitaries and between Colombia and Venezuela) – but these are the touchpoints of violence in the lives of young U.S. Americans with which we must work.
Writing and Violence, April 20, 2007
We are Virginia Tech, April 21, 2007
a matter of language“, April 26, 2007
The first-year students’ College Writing CourseWiki has a record of student reactions to a bomb scare last fall. These were captured serendipitously as a coincidence of the day’s assignment with the threat of violence.
At least one student in this semester’s Group Dynamics course is vocal about hating politics (i.e., “I hate politics”), and seems intent (evidence of argumentative rhetoric?) to make sure (evidence of nonverbal behaviors?) that the product designed by this semester’s course doesn’t “go” in that direction…I am sure he is not the only one who feels this, even if he is the most forthcoming about it. What a tension to resolve, isn’t it? The world we live in is brutal, even if – here at mostly-cushy UMass – we are protected and insulated from having the day-to-day violence in our faces . . .

Gaza: a man-made humanitarian disaster

I have two images in mind. 🙁
One is a poster I came across in Palestine calling for a boycott of Israel. The image is a hand dropping a coin into a helmet that is already full of money.
The other one is a photo of a small boy urinating on the helmet of a soldier.
So, Hamas pissed on Fatah, and Israel pisses on Hamas. Meanwhile, the world watches.

the bubble thins…

Friends of my friend were kidnapped in Colombia over the weekend.
Maria Claudia popped up in chat Monday, “Today is a weird day,” she wrote.
“Why?”
“Two of my best friends were kidnapped last night.”
“Oh my god.”
It is real. Violence creeps closer, no matter how hard we try to keep it at bay, no matter how thickly we deny that it could happen to us or those we love.
They were on vacation at a calm, quiet community along the coast of Colombia – their homeland – and took a boat ride with other tourists (a total of six were taken). Maria Claudia sent me a photo of the young couple, they look So Happy Together!

so happy together2.jpg

I’ve been keeping their faces in mind, envisioning them safe, imagining processes that will lead to their release. A pastiche of memories and associations float in and out of consciousness. The young man in Qabatiya, Palestine, who argued there is no solution for the Palestinians except to increase the violence until the world forces Israel out; the apparently base “human” instinct of aggression and need for power/control – and how this is exacerbated by constant and unrelenting exposure to the prosperity of others, and how we, the others, persist with our pleasures: intent upon our own islands of happiness amidst great suffering.
FARC. Sure, I know the acronym. Well, I’ve read it. Heard it. The Spanish acronym translates to Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. The history of the group is complicated – associated with a communist movement and the illegal drug trade. FARC has been around since 1964; they are strong and organized enough to run an internal government (called a secretariat) with large-scale organizational strategy conferences, and have been involved in international peace processes. In other words, they are not just going to go away.
Their tactics are abominable, but their ideological goals are not – at least, if they intend to live what they say they seek, then they are in a weird bedfellow relationship with many contemporary peace activists and anti-neoliberal-capitalists. As I say, IF they are primarily motivated by “fighting against privatization of natural resources [and] multinational corporations,” then these are aims shared widely. That they use paramilitary violence (while ostensibly arguing for its end), is qualitatively – but not necessarily substantively – different from the official uses of military (and other) violence sanctioned by democratic and communist governments worldwide. The “other violence” is less overtly horrific, but the violences done by policy are part of what FARC ostensibly says they are against. I’m hedging, here, for a couple of reasons.

  1. I am just learning the blunt outline of the conflict, let alone any of its nuances.
  2. If Ana and Alf are to be released, it will be because there are ways to talk with FARC, not only against them.
  3. To talk with them means to allow them some benefit of doubt.
  4. What kind of doubt? That there is a nobility buried somewhere underneath the deliberate and active use of physical, mental, and emotional terrorizing.
  5. On the chance that those honorable intentions can be surfaced and given life in ways that alter the contours of the opposing sides,
  6. with the hope that the conflict can actually shift, in order that
  7. others may be saved through the prevention of future acts of violence and
  8. the aspirations of the FARC community can be legitimately satisfied.

I cannot help but draw parallels to the situation in Palestine. Israel must withdraw. This is the physical and institutional fact. Israelis must move out of the only-always-temporary comfort of The Bubble, must surrender their attachment to the story/history of their own horrific victimization. We in the US must do the same regarding our intent to bolster our status regardless of the fate of others – especially those we know are different; those who think, feel, believe, and perceive the world on other terms than those with which we are most familiar.
We – humanity – must find a way for difference, plurality, and heterogeneity to coexist.

i agree: “the fierce urgency of now”

“Obama received Secret Service protection early in the campaign after unspecified threats. It is not a subject his wife likes to talk about. “She doesn’t allow herself to go there,” says Valerie Jarrett, Michelle Obama’s close friend, who says Michelle has not raised the subject with her. “It would paralyze her to think like that.” Michelle’s brother, Craig Robinson, who is the head basketball coach at Brown University, says the potential danger was one of the things he discussed with her when Obama began his campaign. “That’s always in the back of everybody’s mind,” he told NEWSWEEK. “There are a lot of crazy people out there. But you can’t live your life worrying about them.”

Some Words of Martin Luther KIng, Jr:

“Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men (sic) do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world… we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty… We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak…A few years ago…it seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor, both black and white, through the poverty programs. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam, and I watched this program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war. And I knew America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube…I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government…we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered…True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes necessary to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring…A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death…We are now faced with the fact , my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now… We must move past indecision to action.”