Thursday, October 4, 2007

Greenwald on "Defeatism" and the Latest Torture Revelations

Glenn Greenwald is directing his readers to a comment he made to a reader, addressing the reader's concern that Greenwald's posts are becoming increasingly despairing and defeatist. The original article concerned Greenwald's analysis of the New York Times article today revealing that Bush's Justice Department has for years had secret memorandums authorizing the worst sort of torture. The following long quote is from Glenn's comment. He begins by referencing an earlier comment in the thread (bold emphases are my own):

Glenn, a couple of months back you scolded some of your readers for their apparent hopelessness and sense of surrender, and, although a few of us thought that was unfair, you made some good points about how destructive that pessimism can be. Yet it wouldn't be hard to read your posts over the past couple of months collectively as pretty hopeless themselves.

You raise some important and complicated points that are probably addressed best in a post rather than in a comment. But since many people here have written about the same topic today, allow me to make a few points:

It's interesting that you're suggesting that I'm being excessively defeatist when most of the criticisms I hear these days about what I write is that I'm not defeatist enough. Usually the claim is made that I'm too optimistic, too naive, too unwilling to accept that All Is Lost, too pollyanna-ish about the prospects for remedying these problems short of some major revolution (not necessarily violent, just some sort of massive anti-system change).

I see what I do here as somewhat of a balancing act. My first obligation is to write what I think is true. I can't be a cheerleader or try to encourage people to see things as better than they are if I don't believe that. The first obligation I feel in every post is to write what see I as I really see it, independent of the consequences.

At the same time, I do think defeatism is a pervasive problem, and many people are too willing to give in to feelings of resignation before defeat is really sealed. There are a lot of reasons why people want to succumb to that temptation (I'll leave those to the side for now). When I first started blogging, I was most surprised by how intense and widespread it was -- no matter what I would write, there would invariably be numerous people coming to proclaim that none of it mattered because Karl Rove controlled the voting machines and they would never lose an election.

I am a huge believer in the fact that any systems constructed by human beings can be changed and torn down and replaced by other human beings. That makes defeatism inherently unwarranted.

And I am an equally passionate believer in the system of government the Founders created. Their principal objective was to find a way to bestow it with enough core strength and endurance so that it could outlast even the most corrupted and tyrannical political factions in control. Our history has shown just how resillient that system is, and when in doubt, I'll err on the side of keeping faith in the ability of that system -- to provide solutions by working within it. I think our political system has earned the benefit of that doubt.

At the same time, you are absolutely right that over the past couple months, my view of these matters is changing. How could it not? When you watch what is supposed to be the "opposition party" prove that their only real interest is to be as accommodationist as possible -- even when being oppositional would cost them nothing, even when it would benefit them -- one begins to realize that the hurdles are much greater than merely changing the Democratic Party some in order to make it a real alternative. The whole system seems to be rotting at its core, and the Democratic Party -- in general, with some exceptions -- is but a branch of that rotting system.

Of course that increases the frustration and cynicism level, but at least for me, it hasn't crossed into the type of defeatism -- or at least resignation over the prospects of doing anything about it within the system -- that many commenters in this thread and, increasingly, many others are urging.

I think there is, as you point out, a danger in allowing that frustration to spill into slothful defeatism. I am conscious of that and try to avoid it. There is, however, also a danger is pretending that things are better than they are, that solutions that seem hopeless are actually viable.

Ultimately, I believe in the power of persuasion. A way can always be found to change how people think. That's what I devote myself to, and it's unlikely that I'll ever reach the point where I believe that continuing to do that is hopeless.

I will give Scott Horton the last word (or really, John Yoo, through the medium of Horton's column):

In the immortal words uttered last week by John Yoo, “Every subordinate should agree with [the President’s] views so there is a unified approach to the law.” Yes. It’s called the Führerprinzip. But it sounds so much more convincing in the original German.

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