Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

More about knowing where we’re coming from

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Funny. In the last post, talking about the need to preserve our cultural creations, I said that we have to know where we’re coming from or we won’t know where we’re going. Today, by accident, I find two famous persons, one Canadian, one American, saying much the same thing, on vastly different subjects. They are Naomi Klein, journalist, author and activist, and Noam Chomsky, linguist, cognitive scientist, political activist, and author.

Naomi Klein, in an interview posted on Common Dreams, contends that it’s not possible to simply start over, forget what has gone before, and begin with a new slate. As she says in tech lingo, you can’t just ‘reboot’ the country. She links the impulse to reboot to a lack of accountability, the conviction among élites – political, military or otherwise – that they can get away with illicit acts, because the time will come when a blind eye will be turned to whatever has been done, as once again the notion of a new beginning is put forward.

Ms Klein is talking about ideas in her book, THE SHOCK DOCTRINE, in which she says that vested interests use moments of shock or crisis to re-engineer societies according to their own ideas and – guess what? – to their own advantage. The present bailout in the US she describes as a heist, a “robbery in progress”, the all-time biggest transfer of public wealth into private hands. She contends that instead of being solved, a crisis created by deregulated capitalism is being moved from the private sector into the public sector, by the transfer of this vast sum of public money (11.5 trillion in all, according to BLOOMBERG NEWS). Thus, in the economic meltdown, i.e., the shock, private hands, among them, some who created the crisis, benefit from massive infusions of public money.

But it’s a scenario that’s been played out before, in the Chilean crisis; in Hurricane Katrina (the handing over of public housing to private interests, recalibrating the public school system to enable more charter schools, etc.); in Asia, after the tsunami, when the beaches used by fishermen that were destroyed were taken over by luxury hotels.

She cites other examples, urging us to recognize that, whether these crises are man-made or created by nature, there are always people in the wings, ready to turn events to their advantage at enormous cost to us. If we are aware of this, we can at least be better protected the next time.

Noam Chomsky’s subject is the torture memos that were recently released by the White House. He says that shock and indignation as a response to the memos are understandable. Surprise is not, though, since “even without inquiry, it was reasonable to suppose that Guantanamo was a torture chamber”. Why else would the prisoners be sent where the laws of the land couldn’t reach them?

Returning to our contention about the need to be cognizant of history, it’s this comment of Chomsky’s that’s to the point:

"… torture has been routinely practiced from the early days of the conquest of the national territory, and continued to be used as the imperial ventures of the "infant [American] empire"… extended to the Philippines, Haiti, and elsewhere. Keep in mind as well that torture was the least of the many crimes of aggression, terror, subversion, and economic strangulation that have darkened U.S. history, much as in the case of other great powers."

This being the case, Chomsky suggests wryly that Paul Krugman has a rather slanted take on American history when he says that America used to be a nation of moral ideals, and that “never before Bush ‘have our leaders so utterly betrayed everything our nation stands for.’” He proceeds (the article is well worth the read) to take account of the brutal campaigns that America conducted, beginning with native Americans and extending thereafter overseas to other countries, in its purported mission to spread the ‘idea of America’ across the world.

Thus, "Over the past 60 years, victims worldwide have endured the CIA's 'torture paradigm' … according to historian Alfred McCoy in his book A QUESTION OF TORTURE. He shows how torture methods the CIA developed from the 1950s surfaced with little change in the infamous photos at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison. There is no hyperbole in the title of Jennifer Harbury's penetrating study of the U.S. torture record: TRUTH, TORTURE, AND THE AMERICAN WAY. So it is highly misleading…when investigators of the Bush gang's descent into the global sewers lament that, 'in waging the war against terrorism, America had lost its way.'"

So, if we are to believe Ms Klein and Prof. Chomsky, we have to remember what has gone before, if we are not to be vulnerable to massive manipulation in times of major crisis, and we have to remember what has gone before if we are not to be lulled into vastly misplaced ideas of our moral rectitude.

And, back to where we began, we have to remember what has gone before, if we are to continue to appreciate and develop literature, art, and culture.

The jury is in. The finding is for remembering.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Pamela Mordecai

Pamela Mordecai has been many things: a teacher, a trainer of teachers, a TV host, a diplomatic wife, an anthologist, a writer of poems, stories and textbooks for children, and a writer of criticism, fiction, poetry and plays for those challenged by age. Born and raised in Jamaica, educated there and in the U.S.A., Pam has lived in Toronto for the past 15 years.

Go to Pamela Mordecai’s Author Page