News coverage of APA convention vote on psychologists’ participation in interrogation processes within national security settings

An email I sent at 11:30 today, Saturday August 8, 2015, to the list serv of the Maine Psychological Association:

Remarkably, the NYTimes’ James Risen covered the vote that was held this Friday in Toronto. His story was relegated to the lower half of page 11 of today’s edition, underneath a story about the Obamas’ vacation in Massachusetts. I can’t find it either in my daily email of NYTimes headlines nor in the page at nytimes.com that offers an extensive summary of all stories of the paper today.

[In the email, I here explained I was sending a copy of the complete article as an addendum, with my highlighting. Those interested can find it at the Times’ website, through a search for “Psychologists Approve Ban on Role in National Security Interrogations By JAMES RISEN  AUG. 7, 2015”]

The Wall Street Journal did not mention the vote or convention at all in today’s paper. (I was at my local library searching through the print editions of these two papers, rather than on line, to be able to make these observations.) The Journal does however carry a small lower page story about a report from the human rights committee of the OAS accusing the Obama administration of dragging its feet on clearing uncharged and evidently not dangerous detainees out of Guantanamo. Another news story, easier to find in the mainstream, identifies the Obama administration’s efforts to step up the pace of detainee delegation to other nations, which may be happening largely in anticipation of the APA vote and the OAS report. See http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2015/08/07/world/asia/07reuters-usa-guantanamo.html.

The paucity of coverage of the APA Council’s nearly unanimous vote (and the Times’ relegation of it to near-oblivion) is remarkable in light of the strategic role of the participation of psychologists in the enhanced interrogation of detainees who are typically held without known charges and all without rights of habeas corpus while subject to the ongoing torture (according to international human rights authorities) of forced feeding if they decide to join in a wide-spread hunger strike, while they are secured in a highly classified, secretive installation off our national borders.

Without having secured the green light for psychologists to participate, the Department of Defense, the CIA and the FBI might have very reasonably failed to sustain the kinds of interrogation and forced feeding practices that they have, early and late in the Guantanamo/black-sites period, a loss that might have led to more such detainees being held for interrogation under the auspices of other nations’ detention facilities, with interested covert visits from American security interrogators. Whether that scenario would have been preferable or more horrible for those detained is open to question, while it might serve primarily to support a NIMBY defensiveness of plausible deniability for the US. The mess that our “war on terror” has spawned and continues to augment is not going away easily at this point. And clearly the administration’s policy is to prosecute it, come hell or high water, leading to assassinations by drone or JSOC forces on other nations’ territories with or without their permission. We have “boots on the ground” anywhere on earth that the administration decides to put them at the moment, as a matter of clearly developed national security policy.

Mainstream news sources like The Times or the US government will not be found offering statistics about the number of hunger strikers currently active or the number of prisoners currently force-fed in Guantanamo, even in an article like that at http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/08/us/guantanamo-hunger-strikers-petition-divides-officials.html?_r=0, about a detainee currently litigating (at 75 pounds and counting) for release 13 years after he was found “along the Afghan border, and . . . accused of having gone to the region to fight with the Taliban and of having received some weapons training.” The wrong place at the wrong time, as they say.

The article implies that his hunger strike is an isolated occurrence and that letting him leave Guantanamo might signal the efficacy of hunger striking as a tactic for other detainees to resort to, in order to manipulate the system and secure release. Nevertheless, you can see some numbers referenced in a recent Huffington Post story on a major ethical stand taken by a nurse at Guantanamo. He refused to participate in a forced feeding there and consequently found charges made against him by military authorities and his duties downgraded, although since then the case has been dropped (without explanation, evidently). In that article you will find reference to an internal military document at http://www.scribd.com/doc/254035173/Forcefeeding that explains that forced feeding of a mentally competent person is never acceptable to “international law and certain medical ethical standards”. Have psychologists been involved in advising or observing these feedings? Who can say? If not, why not? If so, how do we parse the ethics of their toleration of this practice?

Yesterday’s Democracy Now! radio/TV program featured excerpts from the Town Hall Meeting held Thursday under the auspices of Psychologists for Social Responsibility, for those interested in checking out some of the speakers there. Risen is also interviewed for several minutes. The producers of the program considered covering this issue important enough to base the show’s production in Toronto this Friday, rather than NYCity. You can see, hear, or read the show or segments of it, as you prefer, by checking at http://www.democracynow.org/

Steve

 

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After I was asked by email whether the title of my last book is a pun

Open Clothes seems to me like it qualifies as pun, although since there’s no syntactic context beyond those two words, I don’t know if it is — I am not researching the definition right now, anyhow. What I can say is it was one of those things that occurred to me, as ideas will, stupid or bright, pregnant or stillborn or whatever, and it began to feel right. I imagine in retrospect just the phrase “open close” occurring to me as a potential title for something, then for the book, with the associations for me that I try to open up and re-open or keep open some conventions, concerns, uncertainties, feelings, ways of knowing my way through this ecosphere, and yet there is also, like it or not, some closure, as things become past, set, lost to memory or understanding, or simply kind of opaque and enigmatic. So we have those two verbs.

And they can also be adjectives, as one might open something keeping it close, and that sounds especially intimate, which also may resonate for a reader of this book, as at least to me most all the writing there seems to suggest and do what it can to enact a sort of intimacy of address and inclusion and risk, in its various sections.

The shift to “open clothes” returns the phrase into sounding like the two verbs, while also insisting again, but playfully now, on intimacy. Poems and words and language seem to me like clothes, in that they are not the core realness and livingness of interdependent life in this existence, but that living’s own mercurial and dynamic, metamorphic, interactive qualities call on words to analogize (I notice the word “analog” in there) in a linear account or structure some semi-authoritative (even while we will, hopefully, mistrust authority) rendering of evidence of what does or can happen — out there and in consciousness.

So trying to exercise that closure and that closeted mode of knowing (which so often, in this book and elsewhere, doesn’t at all “tell all”), while also holding it open to attention and awareness and doubt, seemed again to characterize my project, whether effective or not — to use it while also opening it to examination, with willingness to acknowledge a sense of its partial, temporary, material, constructed, culturally specific and other conditional aspects.

           (Thanks to David Benedetti, for asking.)

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The Unthought Known: Consolidating Corporate Hegemony through Perpetual War on Terror

The legacy of death, disability, grief, terror, trauma, and debasement resulting from and inherent in the aggressive and mis-attuned American and European handling of the economies and cultures of the Middle East are well known and readily discoverable. However, they are all but unmentioned through the narrative that we consume at home, in occasional shock and awe, of the repeated sudden and violent incursions of the United States of America [US], Israel, and their occasional allies against Muslim and Arab peoples and their governments, who are expected to remain subservient and submissive to decisions rationalized to the advantage of the dominant military powers.

US policies in relations with the Middle East reflect two underlying formulations, neither of which is made explicit in the narrative of this front: a) an instrumental single-mindedness to promote and insure dominance and control, which are developed through decisive responses to the sporadic and disconnected local and regional movements that resist, defy or repudiate encroachments on the rights of the indigenous peoples and their states, and (b) the dissociative force of prior engagements in collective trauma, in both the US and the Middle East, that afford compelling influence to an “unthought known” that supports the US and its allies in staging reprisals of traumas of national development inflicted and suffered over the course of recent history.

A.

Observers can only wonder over why the US would repeatedly spur the growth of anti-US terrorism through its own terrorist assaults on human rights, infrastructures, and states, which may be most evident recently in the Middle East. The US’s motives for engineering and implementing these incentives to collective hatred and increasingly effective recruitment go unmentioned, aside from its paradoxical insistence on this as a means to stabilize and secure the Middle East for its native people, thereby securing American security as well. The US appears to undermine this objective relentlessly through its hostile and aggressive incursions and usually high-handed diplomacy. To persistently aggravate the incitement to recruitment into anti-US insurgencies and terrorist movements seems perplexing and counterproductive, unless it is instrumental to the powers behind the US military. Who is calling the shots? And why?

Noam Chomsky, among other analysts of world affairs and US policy, clearly identifies the wide scale of implementation of terrorist interventions and programs by the US, NATO, Israel, and allied states. In an interview broadcast on Democracy Now! on March 02-03 2015, he points out various ways the US undermines elected governments, plans or performs assassinations, and makes unmandated wholesale attacks on such nation states as Libya, Cuba, and Iraq in operations that respected international observers understandably consider acts of virtual genocide and flagrant or reckless precipitation of civil wars abroad. I quote Chomsky, from a transcript published on the Democracy Now! website:

NOAM CHOMSKY: You’ll recall, when the Snowden revelations came out, the immediate reaction from the government, the highest level—Keith Alexander, others—was that these NSA programs had stopped, I think they said, 54 or so acts of terror. Gradually, when the press started asking questions, it was whittled down to about 12. Finally, it came down to one. And that act of terror was a man who had sent, I think, $8,500 to Somalia. That’s the yield of this massive program.

And it is not intended to stop terrorism. It’s intended to control the population. That’s quite different. You have to be very cautious in accepting claims by power systems. They have no reason to tell you the truth. And you have to look and ask, “Well, what is the truth?” And this system is not a system for protecting terrorism.

Actually, you can say the same about the drone assassination program. That’s a global assassination program, far and away the worst act of terror in the world. It’s also a terror-generating program. And they know it, from high places. You can find quotation after quotation where they know it. Take this one case that I mentioned before, this child who was murdered in a drone strike after having watched his family burnt to death by drone strikes.

AMY GOODMAN: In Yemen.

NOAM CHOMSKY: What’s the effect of this on people? Well, it’s to create terror. The close analyses have shown that that’s exactly what happens. There’s a very important book by Akbar Ahmed, who’s an important anthropologist, who is a Pakistani, who studies tribal systems and worked in the North-West territories and so on, and it’s called The Thistle and the Drone. And he goes through, in some detail, the effect on tribal societies of simply murdering—from their point of view, just murdering people at random. The drone attacks, remember, are aimed at people who are suspected of maybe someday wanting to harm us. I mean, suppose, say, that Iran was killing people in the United States and Israel who they thought would—might someday want to harm them. They could find plenty of people. Would we consider that legitimate? It’s again, we have the right to carry out mass murder of suspects who we think might harm us someday.

How does the world look at this? How do the people look at this in this village where this child was who said that they’re terrorized by constant drone strikes all over North-West Pakistan? That’s true. Now it’s over most of the world. The U.S. war—so-called war against terror—has been a smashing success. There was a small group up in the tribal areas of mostly Pakistan and Afghanistan, al-Qaeda, and we have succeeded in spreading it over the whole world. Now they’re all everywhere—you know, West Africa, Southeast Asia—simply generating more and more terror. And I think it’s—you know, it’s not that the U.S. is trying to generate terror. It’s simply that it doesn’t care.

I do question Chomsky’s final assertion, above. He seems to say that the US doesn’t care about whether it generates terror or not. He does not say that the US purposefully generates terrorism among the civilian populations of the world who find themselves pitted against chronic and fatal incursions. However, he might be hard put to deny it, if pressed to justify his dismissal of intentionality.

The disclosure of the photographs of humiliation and torture at Abu Ghraib a decade ago incited a virulent and comprehensible fury around the world at America’s evident attitudes toward unindicted citizens of Arab states. That US armed forces and intelligence agents have tended to flaunt disregard and contempt for Muslim beliefs and Arab customs is not due to mere ignorance of the information gathered about their culture. Indeed, this information has been suppressed, ignored or utilized in developing and exercising means of humiliating and traumatizing people of the region, inciting a predictable hatred and counter-aggressive will.

Following a highly destructive, demoralizing, and fatal “shock and awe” bombardment of Baghdad, although Iraq had shown the US and its allies neither threat nor aggression, there followed an occupation of indefinite degree and legitimacy, marked by failures of reconstruction, laxness of legal protections, and high-handed rearrangements of governmental authority under a nominal show of democracy unconvincing to its citizens. The elastically prolonged period of regime change was marked by an epidemic of abrupt nocturnal incursions into households to arrest residents by force, without charges or other information made available even to their families. An atmosphere of increasing mutual violence and paranoia sparked increasingly common incidents of random and reactive aggression from occupation forces and insurgencies. Deaths, injuries, illnesses, injustices, trauma, grief, economic collapse, and failures of essential infrastructure systems increased, as did internal conflicts among the population. US policy, privileging one portion of the population over another, led a once-harmonious cultural community toward venomous internal ethnic conflicts and civil war. The toll of depleted plutonium in the environment on the population, stemming from the two US incursions over the past quarter century, has never been assessed by the invading forces.

Chomsky points out lucidly how effective American’s militaristic foreign policy has become at establishing the grounds for terrorist movements such as ISIS, as a more traditional colonial and imperialist methodology of world domination yields to a pre-emptive first-strike mentality. This pre-emptive orientation leads logically to targeting suspected insurgents and those who associate with suspect groups and persons – an enormous and growing category of the world’s population—for incarceration, aggressive interrogation, and termination. Diplomatic negotiation inevitably yields to reactive and reflexive behavior, under the pressure of repeated humiliation and trauma.

It follows, then, that as our military’s efforts to contain and expunge groups like ISIS, Al Qaeda, and the Taliban progress to increasingly desperate and ruthless measures, American citizens, at home or abroad, will be targeted for counter-aggressive terrorist actions, in reaction to assaults large and small on the security of the populations of weaker states. As a result, US policy makers will predictably conceive brutal and devastating measures against a growing enemy as increasingly imperative. The powers that be in the US establishment have not indicated how they will destroy such forces abroad without finally destroying the peoples from whom they spring and among whom they live.

The Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case opened regulatory floodgates to money from wealthy super-corporations to fund election campaigns and thereby influence not only who is elected but how they will make key decisions of policy and legislation. Consequently, the presumptive authority of large multinational corporations is clearly identified with that of the US government. Today, decisions in the name of defense and counter-terrorism cannot be made without consideration for the demands and expectations of such dominant international commercial forces.

Why might such interests allow the build-up of international terrorism, that of our targets as well as our own? Why isn’t this mess bad for business? How can the development of mutual counter-terrorism and endless war pave the way for growth and security in the commercial sector?

There may be in our government and its monetary support structure some persons who really don’t care and some who abhor this consequence of American policy, whether they consider it intentional or not. Nevertheless, the logic and efficacy of such mutual counter-aggression dominating a field first opened up by pre-emptive strikes is unquestionable. Such policy intentions are never referred to as such in corporate media. Instead, they are indefinitely suspended, as if disappeared, from the menu of ideas listeners and readers might reflect on, much as the impact of climate change on our recent spate of extreme weather conditions remains unmentioned by media meteorologists.

However, the powers that administrate the world’s economy, typically represented in the G8 summits, the Davos Forum, the International Monetary Fund, and other high-level policy boards of the world’s economy, are eminently influential in policy oversight of the US government and its intelligence and defense services. Such powers cannot afford to be ignorant of contemporary world affairs or intellectually deficient in analyzing the costs and benefits of American policy. One can only assume that the radical growth of aggressive anti-American terrorism has to be well taken into account within their grand scheme of doing business and maintaining their edge over any potential competition in the capitalist economy of the 21st century.

Increasing their market share depends on securing and dominating access to natural resources such as oil, water, and land masses. The powers that our elected officials depend on to stay in business as statespersons and legislators necessarily see their expedient access to such resources as fundamental incentives. It makes logical sense, then, to presume that aggravations of, incitements to, and proliferations of terrorist hostilities against our military and civilian populations, when generated from regions rich in such commercially useful resources, are actually intended and instrumentally depended on.

The logic may be as follows: American strategies of managing business as usual, including drone strikes to assassinate foreign citizens, enhanced interrogations to imprison and disable foreign citizens, and sanctions against whole nations of foreign populations, result in ever-expanding terrorist reactions. As a consequence, our military and Congress may claim justification for increasingly aggressive and severe forms of pacification of the domains from which counter-aggression has sprung. Dominant authority by international commercial interests over resources and policy of these states may be increasingly effective. These consequently expanding, far-reaching, and indefinitely projected policies, formerly framed under the rubric of a “war on terror” and now of a rhetorically indefinite and suspended sort of anomia, continue to generate facts on the ground that are taken to obligate American and allied forces to perpetual police state actions world-wide, binding our military and diplomacy to compel foreign states to submit to American dominance of their own military and domestic police policies and forces. Such a radical encroachment over the world’s land, people, and states provides an advantageous opening for multinational corporate control and exploitation, as well as for the imposition and enforcement of so-called “free trade agreements” designed to supersede regional and local regulations, restrictions, and policy within and among the nations of the signatories.

Our government and corporate media show no sign of readiness to reconsider policies resulting in non-negotiable incitements against foreign populations. These interventions are presented to our volunteer military forces and to our voting citizenry as moral and patriotic measures to protect us from enigmatically mushrooming threats. Generating such spite, mutual aggression, and desolation, while continually preparing for further development of crises and retaliations, is a grisly, horrific means of preparation for the eventual security and prosperity of the corporate control over a fully policed state with ample forces and wide-scale management of institutions of incarceration.

B.

Such outcomes may not, in the long run, bode well for the US citizenry. At present, Americans are largely entranced within the corporate media’s fantastic framing of the saga of American exceptionalism, which is taken to justify patriotic consent to official policy, no matter how irrational or preposterous. Threats posed by officially targeted enemies abroad anchor the story line of good versus evil, us versus them. “Destroying” the enemy, along with others construed as somehow associated with the enemy, if only by religion or proximity, is still effectively sold as a worthy and desirable achievement in itself. To the extent that this narrative is accepted, embraced, or simply allowed to stand, Americans are lulled into affirmation of their government’s foreign policy and support its initiatives with their tacit consent, even while their own state is eviscerated of citizen benefits, turning a blind eye to their material needs and safety and bankrupting the democratic process for fire sale to the highest bidders.

I can easily believe that this assessment is not generally admitted into discussion by many who are instrumental in implementing and supporting militaristic interventionism. The analysis above, as a framing of the situation, may not enter into their conscious thoughts. Yet its implicit logical process proceeds unarrested, gathering force as it accelerates, currently in the momentum of opinion that ISIS can and should be eradicated. I propose that the underlying narrative of this logic constitutes an example of “the unthought known” in our everyday life.

In Forces of Destiny (Aronson, 1989), British psychoanalyst Christopher Bollas writes, paradoxically enough, that this phrase, “the unthought known,” “refers to any form of knowledge that as yet is not thought.” The knowledge in such an instance is not articulated, may not yet be accessible to language. A person may in some way know but cannot actually think what is happening, why it’s going that way, in mind or in behavior. Such an “unthought known,” stemming sometimes from preverbal formative relational influences, including repressed trauma history, may determine the course of a person’s expectations for life and persistent history of relational functioning, while remaining inaccessible to cognitive attention and memory. A mood or attitude, such as one of fear, rage, or vigilance, can be aroused by such a schema’s activation and persist to strengthen its determining power in the person’s life.

Stretching a use of this theoretical concept, I suggest that “the unthought known” may also occupy a government and culture’s behavior and framing of its actions at various levels of awareness, while evading conscious recognition and ethical assessment, particularly when the population responsible for and collusive with governmental decisions shares a primordial history corresponding to the re-enactment under inquiry. The continuing legacy of subjugation and destruction of the native North American populations and enslavement and brutally enforced degradation of African Americans and other racial minorities are among the constructive traumatic episodes that made possible the creation of this nation and the development of its economy. Unconscious re-enactment may be inferred in the US’s present assumption of dominant authority and forceful aggression in the Middle East.

Steve Benson
03 03 – 03 22 2015

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Thoughts about affiliation and militarism

Driving to work a couple days ago, listening to the Democracy Now! headlines and barking out echoes and ripostes, as I tend to do, early in my morning, to get my voice in shape, to stay alert to Amy Goodman’s hectic delivery of information, and to vent my attitudes, I found myself verbalizing something about how our innate human interdependency and sociality and attachment needs not only orient us toward mutual care, group mind, loyalty and love in connection with our collective body (whether as clan, nuclear family, profession, workplace, ethnic fellows, sexual orientation, or nation) but also can fuel our hostile, war-mongering, aggressive, hateful and militaristic attitudes and behaviors.

By us, I mean “people,” of course. And of course this was spelled out in some rude short-hand, there in the car, where I was tooling along alone without a recording device turned on.

My concept, though, came back to me this morning washing breakfast dishes. If there’s an us that we value as native, vital, meaningful, safe, mutually supportive and helpful, there may be, whenever the sympathetic nervous system [SNS] kicks in, a them — whether it’s a sabre-tooth tiger, a plague, a boogeyman, an economic threat, a looming impression of enigmatic difference that feeds a potential paranoia, or an enemy that’s been identified in our cultural milieu (I notice we Americans still are as a culture seeing Russia in a very presumptive, negative, demonic light, and we are still regarding most Americans as un-Americans, whether because they don’t live in the USA but in some other part of the Americas or aren’t yet citizens here or have values or practices that appear to question or threaten those we have accepted as definitive of America — even when these values are as peculiarly selective as being-employed, or skin color, or going to a Christian church).

​The impulse to create an other, as alien and as threat requiring control or annihilation (which is to say, an absolute and final control — such as our government hopes to impose on terrorists through drone strikes), may be an inherent capacity of humans, most likely to be exercised when a culture confronts or engages some kind of mix with what hasn’t yet been well assimilated. Bali or Tahiti before the​ onslaught of tourism and westernization come to mind, perhaps stupidly in me, as examples of peaceful (partly because isolated on an island) cultures — there must be more and better examples I am not scholarly enough to remark here. Our age of globalization and information explosion puts virtually every cultural difference into our implicit data bank, for Fox News or Democracy Now to remark on selectively, for better or for worse, so there is always fodder ready to this purpose, and information overload itself can add to the escalation of the SNS.

This is how, at the moment, I think that militarism and domestic terrorism and school massacres are expressions of the same thing: human goodness, in its affiliative and cooperative nature, under threat from apparent danger — often misguidedly advertised, for one reason or another. (Greed is another control demand, which I see as based in insecurity — which itself is culturally sanctioned and encouraged in our American-Dream consumerist and individualist culture.) I feel interested in and good about thinking this way, partly because it matches my seemingly unshakable sense that people are good, that love and connections are fundamental to us, and that psychopathology is a problem in the adaptive or organizational activation of these fundamental traits and needs (e.g., trauma screws it up big-time and results in adjustments that often don’t fit so well in a peaceful couple or community). I also am encouraged by hearing that people under 30 these days are much more likely to have overcome or not to have been primed by racist and sexual prejudices — though I wonder whether the same might have been said of my own Boomer generation by those older than us . . . and here we are again still.

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The unthinkable as the slaughter of schoolchildren

This was a so-called military school in which children were slaughtered mercilessly, and as well as I can understand its project from news sites, this meant it was a school devoted to service to families of the military regime in power in Pakistan, which had recently targeted sites associated with the Taliban as among its areas of influence, sites that had previously not been bombed that now were getting bombed.

In the Wikipedia article devoted to the attack on the school, the Taliban’s spokesman himself seems to find the deliberate, ruthless and hours-long slaughter of the children unthinkable, to judge by his speakings:

TTP spokesman Muhammad Omar Khorasani said that “we targeted the school because the Army targets our families. We want them to feel our pain.”[29] “Our six fighters successfully entered the Army school and we are giving them instructions from outside,” said Khorasani by phone.[30] Khorasani also said “Our suicide bombers have entered the school, they have instructions not to harm the children, but to target the Army personnel. It’s a revenge attack for the Army offensive in North Waziristan.”[31][32]

In Wikipedia’s account of the military campaign beginning this June that the Taliban claim this massacre was a response to, one notes the following:

After the attack, the Pakistani military launched a series of aerial strikes on militant hideouts in the tribal areas along the Afghan border. At least 25 militants, including foreign fighters, were killed on 10 June.[42] Two drone attacks on 12 June killed Uzbek, Afghan and local militants.[43][44] On 15 June the Pakistani military intensified air strikes in North Waziristan and bombed eight foreign militant hideouts, killing as many as 140 militants (most Uzbek, including persons linked to the airport attack and airport attack commander and mastermind Abu Abdur Rehman Almani).[45][46] The intensified aerial strikes in the wake of the attack were an extension of operations against militants conducted over the last few months.[42]

Within this account (and, I suspect, all or most all others covering this operation), no children or women, disabled or elderly persons are evidently counted or, perhaps, identified as part of the count. Nor were any “militant hideouts” reported as mistakenly identified by the Pakistani military — in which case, their aerial strikes are certainly far more skillfully chosen and executed than those of the US military. But I’m not sure this is reliably to be assumed.

But we do have some statistics, however precise or rough, on the outcome of the United States’ executive’s military wing in its campaign of surgically precise drone attacks on terrorists in Yemen, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. A recent article in the Guardian is worth reading in full (at http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2014/nov/24/-sp-us-drone-strikes-kill-1147). It starts by noting that two drone strikes that both unsuccessfully targeted Aywan Zawahair inside a village in Pakistan cost the lives of 76 children and 29 other adults.

Two paragraphs from the middle of this article read:

“Drone strikes have been sold to the American public on the claim that they’re ‘precise’. But they are only as precise as the intelligence that feeds them. There is nothing precise about intelligence that results in the deaths of 28 unknown people, including women and children, for every ‘bad guy’ the US goes after,” said Reprieve’s Jennifer Gibson, who spearheaded the group’s study.

Some 24 men specifically targeted in Pakistan resulted in the death of 874 people. All were reported in the press as “killed” on multiple occasions, meaning that numerous strikes were aimed at each of them. The vast majority of those strikes were unsuccessful. An estimated 142 children were killed in the course of pursuing those 24 men, only six of whom died in the course of drone strikes that killed their intended targets.

​​The coincidence of “142” children in this quotation and “140 children” cited in the school massacre will not be lost on us once it is noticed.

The unspeakable has been under-reported but present with us for quite a while. To not know, not remember and not discuss has been a familiar norm, particularly in the United States. The Triangle Building fire, the Indian Removal Act of 1830, the chronic sexual abuse of young children by their clergy, the mass incarceration of African-American boys and men in our own time​ are only a few of countless examples of unspeakable yet systematic (or system-driven) devastation on a massive and scale that remain for the most part as much out of mind as out of site — above all, here in “the homeland of the free.”

I agree this is very difficult stuff to theorize, but there are dots that are connectable, however horrific, gut-wrenching, and irrationalizing their particulars happen to be.

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The American Psychological Association, detention and torture, and the news

I can understand anyone’s becoming quite tired of looking into, discussing, and organizing thoughts about the issues relating to the American Psychological Association [APA] and America’s role in civil rights violations in Guantanamo and elsewhere, particularly as the tightly held classified communications, even about matters a decade in the past, remains impenetrable. I myself allied in the mid-naughts with a developing group called Coalition for an Ethical Psychology to protest what I perceived as a deceitful, short-sighted violation of ethical principles in the APA and in its program for withholding of dues and finally withdrawal from membership. I joined Psychologists for Social Responsibility as an alternative, international organization to represent my position of care for the bigger picture from the point of view of my income-producing profession. This post is adapted from a letter to a few colleagues who are prominent members of my state association.

Many psychologists are lobbying and campaigning within as well as outside of the APA toward the end of reconciling the national organization with psychology’s and the people’s best interests.  A year or so ago I wrote a piece at the request of the editor of the Maine Psychological Association’s newsletter intended to support and encourage some necessary inquiry by members of the national association who read the state association’s newsletter that might lead to constructive reforms in the APA to bring it into alliance with its stated mission and policies. In the all-too-lengthy and possibly inept article we published in the newsletter, I hoped to offer enough information that readers could understand how a controversy on these matters had begun and why it was in fact not going away, rather than to argue from one side or another. I tried to avoid expressing my personal feelings of hurt and anger over a betrayal of trust, since my own personal feelings really are beside the point. If harm has been or is being done with the support of federal and APA authorities, I am not the victim here, after all, but a collusive partner, as citizen-taxpayer.

The fact that 12 Nobel Peace Prize winners teamed up last week to write an open letter to try to get the President of the United States to release a Senate committee report on interrogation practices of the previous decade that he’s been sitting on for a year or more and that is already highly redacted by the CIA speaks to the continuing frustration of persons of conscience as well as their unwillingness to let the matter disappear into the sanitizing vacuum that tends to absorb much actual American history. I doubt that full disclosure of the report would enhance the APA’s reputation; I hope I am wrong.

In the past month a new book by James Risen called Pay Any Price has brought the controversy of the APA’s collusion with torture and illegal detention into a newly focused discussion in the media, at least to the degree that media still permits such discussion at all. Risen’s book is not primarily about the APA’s activities or its relation to the national military, security and intelligence apparatus — I gather this is at issue in one chapter of a book presenting a much further-reaching set of stories united around the tendency toward regrettable and unethical decisions being made in response to deregulation of federal government agency rules, burgeoning of financial opportunities and promotion of wide-spread anxiety in the wake of 9/11. (The Coalition for an Ethical Psychology has a lengthy and detailed response, primarily in the form of follow-up questions, to the APA’s dismissal of Risen’s material in Pay Any Price about its relationship to civil rights violations. Inspect and reflect on the concerns raised at http://www.ethicalpsychology.org/materials/Coalition-Questions-for-APA-Board.pdf.)

It’s been remarkable to see two articles coming out in the past week in national psychological research journals on the evidence that (1) mistrust especially of authority is dramatically on the rise throughout our national culture and that (2) anxiety within an organization tends to generate an increase in failures in or obviation of ethical decision-making. I find them important to reflect on as we live in a period where mistrust and anxiety appear increasingly busy and omnipresent and may be complexly interactive (as we often see in individual clinical cases, and then some), with terrorism, climate change, and risks of many other kinds incessantly on the rise. As our government increasingly insists on surveillance of its citizenry’s personal lives and activities, it guards its own behaviors and knowledge from citizen’s view to an increasing degree. It’s hard to see just how the American people are responsible for their government these days.

Obama’s administration has prosecuted more whistleblowers under the Espionage Act than all previous presidential administrations combined, despite Obama’s campaign pledges to promote transparency and support whistleblowers in his 2008 run for President. A person’s got to wonder. Where would Woodward and Bernstein and Ellsberg be now, if Obama had been president then? Something significant is going on in American journalism that undermines the capacity of the American people to participate in a national democracy and even in a broadly joined debate, as media outlets are increasingly centralized under the control of highly complex corporate interests and the classification of information as secret is more and more broadly extended and enforced. My local Peace and Justice group lately screened a Canadian film (one remarkable for earning no reviews I could find on line in US corporate papers although released commercially as well as on line more than a year ago) about the corporate news media’s suppression of investigative journalism. Even to my jaded mind it was eye-opening and shocking. It’s kind of a thriller, as documentaries go: fast-paced, entertaining, and tight, with plenty of detail and personalities emerging in the 4 or 5 reporters whose stories are tracked, and you can watch it free at http://shadowsofliberty.org/watch/ I am recommending it to people who feel that being able to get the news still matters. It helps for those who still care to connect the dots of an information and communication system shared on a large scale within our society or a historical narrative spanning more than the past month or two.

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I know what I’m thinking

And it is that I like playing what’s on the CD player in random order not because life is random (sometimes I wish it were, at least for a few moments, just to see) but because it gives the lie to the fallacy that anything passes in sequential order, it reminds me of simultaneity, it clarifies in practical moments a sense not that anything can happen but that cause and effect are merely strategies of thinking, and association is also. I seem to type more typos all the time. I do try to correct them. Have I? Anyway, while cooking this marvelous and horrible meal that may turn out to be comestible, I decided suddenly I felt like hearing that album of Early Takes that George Harrison didn’t put out but occurred to him posthumously, and I felt that I was getting it started on random sequence on my 3CD boom-box player from 13 years ago but nothing happened. No movement. So I pressed the arrow that points toward the right as I’ve sometimes found effective, and it immediately got me to hearing Eric Dolphy’s band close to the end of his life playing a tune that I knew immediately was about remembering Paris, and I have a feeling he recorded it in Europe and never did make it back to the states, but that’s his business and I’m not researching it.

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Notes on revision and evasion

These are two excerpts from February 2014 correspondence with Cathy Wagner about how I revise and improvise my writing:

No, usually I do little or no editing, myself. In recent times (books like Open Clothes or Blue Book) I indicate in the authorial notes whether or how I have edited anything based on a transcript or act of writing. E.g., in the newer of those 2 books there has been only very selective cuts, no rewrites, as I recall. This relates to the Ginsberg/Kerouac school of spontaneity and stylistic whatever-I-do-is-writing mode or pose, which I am neither doing nor critiquing, but availing myself of as a premise for doing whatever I am doing. I would not say the poems are a record, but I would say that the transcripts are a poem, and also that the original live oration or sound recording or manuscript or typescript was also a poem. To call the in-print (on the page or on a screen on line) published (which means for others, potentially anyone, to see) version a poem is the hardest of all, rather than saying it reproduces inadequately a poem, no matter how carefully I’ve made choices on typography and layout, perhaps because still it is the furthest removed from my own clumsily intuitively decisive inept hand and mouth. But I will call it one anyway. An embodied simulacrum of my intentions for transposition to the page/screen. To say the poem itself is a transcendent entity that cuts across or encompasses these diverse incarnations feels totally pretentious and false. Not true of Dickinson either. Her embodied hand-written poems include the paper they’re written on, we know now more than ever. The published typeset versions are just accounts of them, documentation approximating their form and the writer’s intentions.

Anyhow, I used to edit some and may again, would like to, but haven’t found the time. If I write an essay, like the 2 reviews published in Jacket2 in the last couple years, I rewrite a good bit, as long as I can stand it, then hope for the best. Two projects in which composition was largely comprised of revision come to mind, namely “Reverse Order”(which appears in a book of the same name) and Briarcombe Paragraphs (in a chapbook of the same name), both of which I feel are major achievements of my frustrating and irreconcilable willfulness. In these each segment (stanza or paragraph) was composed at one extended sitting, using the previous one (itself its own final draft) as basis for revision (in the case of the poem, I also reversed the sequence of lines when I first typed them out before I began to revise it into a new stanza). The piece called “On Time in Another Place” that is also in Reverse Order was extensively revised, as a set of isolated paragraphs, over the long time I was out of the country around 1984-85, then I spliced the paragraphs together, alternating lines between them in a way I made of collaging them, and that required some careful tender revision too, without changing the paragraphs’ composition much.

Meanwhile, anyhow, if and when I am simply improvising, as writing on the page or screen or in the sounding air, I am indeed as you say editing in my head, there are roads not taken. I notice that once I feel like “I know where this is going” I feel obliged to change it. This is a sort of characterological fault or necessity (I don’t want to call it a compulsion, I don’t think that’s fair to it) that has made it impossible, just about, to write narrative, though on the other hand, when I wrote my (heavily edited and rewritten) parts of the Grand Piano books I did not worry about this or feel a pressure to do this. So it has to do with the poetry act of art writing, basically, and it includes my personal history of finding myself sick with shame and disgust when I didn’t follow this willingness to let go and see work slide into a frame or tone, a voice or tense that I hadn’t been anticipating. On the other hand, I have often hoped for a given attitude, manner, or relational quality in an improvised work in public, only to find I couldn’t locate that at all in my actual behavior and production, so that I was already fully thrown back on not-knowing how to do it or what could/should come next and thereby the necessity of actually improvising, rather than simply reproducing something I’d imagined or rehearsed. The chosen constraints or rules I’d committed to in advance would in effect save me by giving me something to hang onto while bouncing off of, so that I could find a weird and basically unpredictable if not uncanny rhythm of seeming contact and suspension to orient to, even as it changed or refused to change as I went along. Hard work, in a way. I don’t know whether ‘the unconscious’ enters into this work, but I have no objection if it manages to; forgetfulness is certainly rampant to a degree I could call amnesiac, as I often can remember very few moments of what I’ve said until I hear it later.

There is a meta-discourse and a discourse and the textual production, particularly when improvising aloud, clearly slips around between these two impersonations that are actually impossible for me to distinguish with any conviction. They reflect each other, reflect on each other, mimic one another, infect one another.

Anyway, clearly your method of writing as you describe it in your fourth paragraph here is very very different and allows for a play of levels and discourses in a different set of ways that is most compellingly pleasing-and-disturbing. I don’t know how many people rewrite their works. Most people you and I like a lot in their writing do I think revise, rejuxtapose, refinish, scratch and contort their work variously between the sketches, notes, and drafts it starts from and a final piece.

. . .

I thought a little more (endlessly) and recently listened also to a ‘reading’ I gave at St Marks on 3 9 2005 in which I first gave a tentative and unresolved short reading (with some improvisation) from the Open Notebooks section of what was then my brand new book and then I did an improvisational piece that lasted about 25 minutes I think. Just standing against the white wall or pacing and gesturing, talking. It was on the same model as the piece I had already done at Discrete Series in Chicago (which Erika Staiti used verbatim for a video — both are linkable to from my website, stevebensonasis) but it comes out very different, less ruminative and airless, more artificial and passionate. I could send it to you via Dropbox if you like. But the point of saying so is that this is another way I have revised work, as if ‘in the camera’ as I’m speaking an improvised work, by ‘repeating’ the same utterance with a discrete or indiscreet alteration on more or less every iteration. (I also did this in a work called “Enter,” during which I was also writing other variations on the same clauses, and it’s not available from me in video but I made a text version of the entire thing and that’s also on line.) For a few years I focused on this approach to improvising/revising works, with mixed satisfaction, in that some episodes were marvelous to me and some highly disappointing as some limitations, in myself or the method, showed in a dull tiresome way. I had felt that way about the St Marks piece until I re-heard it while driving on Friday.

A way I have done work that is in a sense private and not poetry (as your trance vocalizations may be) is the piano improvisations, which my Yamaha can record up to two of at a time, and which I gradually begin to download into my laptop and post occasionally at ReverbNation. I have also made a link from the website to the page there lately. These are not my best — the best have all been played without recording, or the recordings lost. I often have wondered whether and how I could work piano playing into my poetry readings but, aside from the difficulty often of arranging a keyboard at all, I haven’t yet found any way in which the two mix. That may eventually come.

Another thing I thought of about how I edit in situ while improvising work orally or in text is that I think I am gauging whatever I produce relative to the listener/reader’s access to something. I am not maintaining any specific or consistent idea of what I want the reader or listener to be able to grasp, understand, or hang on to, so that the handholds or hooks or openings toward significance or interest are mercurial sometimes and always subject to change. But I am aware that I also can’t really make the work totally oblivious to the other who is attending to it (actually or potentially), and a few attempts at work that are procedurally focused on chance applications of words to page without attempts at linkage or attachment of any kind have never (to my recollection) made it into the presence of any public. Stuttering or shouting m ay be a way of offering such access, as well as grammatical and semantic familiarity or representation (in the sense that “You believe in crouching play antiphonies,” for instance, represents a person having some kind of conviction in entities with specific characteristics, even if it’s hard to tell what this may mean).

Usually, all the same, I do mean things by what I utter in such improvisations; I am usually saying things that I believe are ethically acceptable to utter as assertions, even though they may not be particularly valuable in and of themselves, and even though some things I say are presented merely as gestures for some momentarily palpable reason and I really don’t mean them as assertions in the world of my own understandings, even though I may not indicate any difference between them and gestures I would indeed ‘stand behind.’

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December film viewing

I borrowed schizopolis and cosmopolis from netflix at the same time to watch them as a double bill, back and forth if necessary, over a week or two’s time. although the latter was more cinematically engaging and personally challenging and disappointingly poignant, the former carried the intimate smell of the real, albeit burning, which has stuck around for weeks. a more catastrophic and inspiring double bill for schizopolis, destructively generative and ultimately fitting would be exit through the gift shop. these two films, particularly framed against one another, raise enough questions to fill anyone’s scrapbook.
“it’s like I’m playing chess—I don’t know how to play chess, but life is a chess game for me.”

I don’t think I’ve seen any other Kiyoshi Kurusawa movies and I can’t tell whether I want to. Tokyo Sonata is disturbing, as it constantly changes key. You can’t tell what kind of movie it is, even when it’s over, though every step of the way you know you’re in a movie and it’s working one way or another. So it seems like realism is punctured or trumped by surrealism that turns out to be an idealization of realism–an extraordinary representation of things as they just are. It seems to me to present the truth about middle class family life. What do they think of it in Japan?

The best rock documentary is all about music in Istanbul?
Crossing the Bridge induces that simultaneous self-consciousness and absorption in the other that one experiences on visiting a strange city, in another country, with a language of its own.

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the new electric Dylan of 196x

Listening to Joan Baez sing this while I’m washing dishes before washing my face before bed,
I think how Dylan’s Edie Sedgwick romance and Warhol superstar Factory loomed in the film
once Cate Blanchett was transmitted into his body and then the other way around
and wonder how fully Dylan became for a time the folksinger of the Chelsea Hotel
having accepted a differently idealized folk from the movement folkies and soft teen rebels
so as to know how far he could go into the dream of the ideal and its conflicted priorities
I’ve never read an actual biography of Dylan, as I don’t count the Chronicles Volume 1
as in any way an actual account but rather a substitute and simulacrum, like the songs
in Self-Portrait as it has stood its ground from 1970 on into a crumblingly desiccating
future desecrating one earnest stage at a time of self-representation and appeal to the truth

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