The Smiling Serpent The reason But the But let’s I don’t Back home Does it One Stacy Make no Now, nearly
you thought comedy was dead, you obviously haven’t heard of Strobe Talbott,
the State Dept.’s factotum where Russian affairs are concerned. The Strobe
used to be a Time hack, a man who took, and continues to take, himself extremely
I find him so funny is simple. There is no bigger mess than Russia right now,
but the Strobe, who should have resigned in shame five years ago, remains unaffected
by the intrusion of fact and continues to bang on endlessly. If the Strobe were
a politician, I would understand. Politicians have no shame, no honor and are
as likely to fall on their sword as Hillary and Bill Clinton are to tell the
Strobe is a hack, and he should know better. The great swindle that is Russia
took place under his watch, and as William Pfaff wrote in The Los Angeles
Times, “Ambition was involved… Strobe Talbott wanted the reputation
of an important influence on reform in Russia, a country that always intrigued
not be too beastly with the Strobe. He is only a Clinton-Gore catamite, yet
another bald-faced phony working for the most corrupt administration since Huey
Long bit the bullet. The real criminals are the Draft Dodger and the Bore. Here’s
William Pfaff again: “Bill’s friendship with Boris, and Al’s
with Victor Chernomyrdin, served to identify them in the eyes of voters as patrons
of the new Russia and as men of state. They used American resources to keep
friend Boris Yeltsin in power–itself an inducement to corruption.”
think there has ever been a greater swindle in the history of the world. While
visiting the Riviera last year I saw firsthand the scale of it. Sixty percent
of all luxury yachts priced at more than $5 million belonged to Russians; 65
percent of luxury villas renting out at more than $100,000 per month were taken
by guess who. Fifty percent of the clientele of the most expensive hotels in
the area were Russkies. (Ironically, the house I used to rent on Cap d’Antibes,
Les Cloches, included by F. Scott Fitzgerald in Tender is the Night,
later on Irwin Shaw’s favorite rental on the Riviera, is now owned by,
according to some reports, Victor Chernomyrdin, as part of the Chateau de la
Garoupe property that he reputedly paid for in cash to the tune of 70 million
in Russia, needless to say, things ain’t what they used to be. People are
practically dying of hunger, and child mortality is on an African scale. Every
penny the American taxpayer sent over has been stolen. Still the Draft Dodger
refuses to accept blame. Let me give you a little example of Clinton’s
handling of your money. Since 1995 $5.1 billion in aid has been provided for
Bosnia. More than a billion has disappeared. Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic’s
son, Bakir, is allegedly one of the richest men of the region. Bakir shares
in the extortion money extracted by Sarajevo gangsters from local businessmen
and owns 15 percent of state-controlled Bosnia Air. These are the same people
we shielded from the Serbs and into whose coffers have poured over $5 trillion.
surprise you, then, that the average Russian sees an American moral complicity
in the greatest swindle ever? American policy toward Russia since the Great
Liar came to power has been one of amateurism and careerism. Clinton’s
self-aggrandizement as a man who knows how to conduct world affairs has been
copied by everyone down the line, starting with Al Bore and the Strobe. According
to Pfaff, “The central error has been Washington’s persistent conflation
of foreign relations with personal relations between individual leaders, disregarding
the safeguards of traditional government to government relations.” In other
words, just like Madeleine Albright in Rambouillet, or Richard Holbrooke in
Bosnia, amateur careerists both, the interests of both the West and the countries
involved were sacrificed on the altar of self-aggrandizement and publicity.
Sullivan commenting in The New York Times demanded that the Serb
people face up to their crimes. “Washington should make all aid to the
political opposition in Serbia contingent on acknowledging Serbian atrocities
in Kosovo, Bosnia and Croatia…” he or she thunders. What crimes? asks
poor little me. Those committed by their leaders, for which the greatest ethnic
cleansing of Serbs took place in Krajina, or those committed by the unarmed
Serb populace for which bombs rained on it for 79 days? The only acknowledging
should be by the Draft Dodger, that he was much too vulnerable at home to risk
a foreign affairs crisis, and alienate amateurs like Albright, the Strobe and
the Bore. He has thus managed to turn Uncle Sam into a hate figure, and, for
the first time ever, also an immoral one where Serbia and Russia are concerned.
mistake about it. This is the dark side of American politics. And of the American
media. Back in 1992 we had a candidate who had dodged the draft, had absurdly
lied about pot smoking and marital infidelity, and pretended to be all things
to all people. Despite the transparency of his lies, and the obvious lack of
character, the media gave him a pass. And the people chose him over a man who
had a long record of public service, including distinguished service during
the war (despite the lies put out by Sid the Scumbag Blumenthal) and was as
honorable a man as has ever served as commander-in-chief.
eight years on, we have the mother of a convicted drug dealer and wife of a
convicted criminal, Geraldine Ferraro, suggest on national television that George
W. Bush has drug skeletons in his closet. This is madness, Orwellian newspeak,
the smiling wallet-lifter as hero. And again make no mistake about it: The smiling
cobra making New York state rounds last week has to be in on it. The politics
of personal destruction were invented by the Clintons, and Bill Clinton is as
responsible for attempting to mire George W. in the shit as anyone. It is the
Clinton style. I am willing to bet my last drachma that Bill Clinton has sniffed
more cocaine than George W. has ever been near to, yet it’s the latter
who has to prove himself clean. As Jackie Mason says, the Clintons lie because
they enjoy lying. Yes, Jackie, but they also lie because lying has been very,
very good to them.
The Smiling Serpent
Goodbye to the Gumshoe
isn’t God who’s dead, it’s Philip Marlowe. Robert Mitchum, Alan
Ladd, Edmond O’Brien, Bogart, even James Garner–they’ve not been
replaced. Now we have science fiction, the occult and computer-gaming as our
dominant movie genres. How many movies this year have been movies of detection,
in which the truth has been uncovered? None that are viewable–I think this
year it’s only been The General’s Daughter.
you want about horror and science fiction movies–and I hate them–they
do not have to obey rules of evidence, human judgment and human understanding.
Uncovering the truth no longer matters. Truth, nowadays, is located in some
inaccessible realm, based on the occult or special effects. “What really
happened at Roswell?” “Are there such things as witches?” and
“Will he get laid?” have replaced “Who killed him and why?”
as what moves movies.
a real break with the past. Great drama–and film is merely drama staged
in front of a camera rather than onstage–has been about finding the truth.
The reason for this is simple. Since we are alone of all the animals in having
property that extends us beyond our physical existence–we accumulate possessions,
professions, roles, reputations during our lifetimes, and pass them on to our
children–there are for us certain basic questions whose answers are so
important to us that they shape all of our relations. To give an example: Our
children inherit our property, our status, our skills, our friendships. So it’s
critical to know: Are our children ours?
can answer this question; fathers can’t. And this difference between the
sexes in our intimacy with the truth has shaped the most basic laws and customs
of the various human cultures. In fact, it’s not too far-fetched to say
that all of civilization is an attempt to make sure that the question now advertised
on taxi tops–those “1-800-WhosMyDad” numbers–is answered
with some specificity.
biological difference in knowledge comes every part of culture that seeks to
differentiate men and women. So from the Torah to Oedipus Rex to Hamlet, Dickens
and The Lady Eve, our stories have concerned themselves with uncovering
the mysteries of human relationships. Heroes search for certainty about a very
simple and profound set of questions: Who are my parents? Who am I? Who shall
be my spouse? Can I trust him or her? Even the shallowest of us can identify
with literary heroes at times in our lives. Think of how deeply rattled we become
by something we ought, rationally, to be casual about: sexual betrayal. This
must come from an instinct deeper than the moral: from being reminded that our
biological descent may be compromised.
people haven’t ceased to be concerned with the truth of biological descent.
The queues stretch around the block outside fertility clinics; the public record
offices are full of adopted children searching for their biological parents.
But the mandarins of our culture have given up on the project, and this shows
in the movies. Were Hitchcock born a Gen-Xer, his movies could not be made.
They don’t concern themselves with the occult or the unexplained, but with
men and women who are evil hurting those who are innocent or ignorant. (It’s
a sad commentary that Hitchcock’s worst and least characteristic movie,
Psycho, is now his most admired, precisely because its hero is boringly
insane rather than interestingly wicked.)
of the detective struggling to uncover the truth we get heroes who confront
an impossibly complicated, perhaps supernatural or extraterrestrial, conspiracy;
instead of a victim suffering because of the greed, cruelty, jealousy or desire
of another, our victims suffer because they are “possessed” or abducted.
Even movies retelling historical events important to us are about fictionalizing
or repackaging them: Saving Private Ryan and Life is Beautiful
both celebrate a kind of pretense that World War II isn’t really happening.
In the meantime,
on tv you can see a dreadful new fictionalization of the Clarence Thomas/Anita
Hill conflict. This film succeeds in dehumanizing both Hill and Thomas, ignoring
the human conflict between them (which was a tragedy for Hill the pathetic liar
as well as for her victim) and inventing instead a vast right-wing conspiracy
that drives the whole affair. The program is dismal. Still, it’s wonderfully
apt that it’s produced by Jacob Epstein, who began his career in the entertainment
industry 20 years ago by leaving Yale and writing his first novel, Wild Oats.
He was then accused by Martin Amis of plagiarizing Amis’ own first novel,
The Rachel Papers. Epstein is the perfect impresario for an age whose
elite has turned its back on the search for truth.
Dear Dr. Ruth
Dr. Ruth, I’m writing to you on behalf of a friend who has recently developed
rather a delicate problem. He’s a Brit living in New York whose girlfriend
has just moved back to London. He’s madly in love with her and desperately
wants to carry on seeing her but fears the prospect of a long-distance relationship
may not appeal to her. His work commitments will only allow him to travel to
London once a month and, in the interim, he’d planned to keep her sweet
with plenty of telephone sex. However, being a buttoned-up Brit, he can’t
bring himself to talk dirty. The moment he starts to describe what he’d
like to do to her, he’s overcome with embarrassment. In short, when it
comes to phone sex, the limey faggot can’t get it up. Is there anything
you can do to help?
Ruth, I admit it. It’s me. My girlfriend, Caroline, returned to the mother
country in July and, with the exception of a glorious week on Shelter Island
in August, I haven’t seen her since. Before she left, we resolved to have
telephone sex as often as possible, but it’s turned out to be far more
difficult than I’d anticipated. A typical attempt goes something like this:
should I start? You know I can’t start.
I’m not going to.
okay, I’ll start. Let’s think now… [pause]
Are you still there?
yes. Hold your horses. I’m thinking…
realize this is costing me 25p a minute?
we’re on a deserted beach in Bali. We’re both naked. I reach over
to caress your hair… [I'm interrupted by the sound of hysterical laughter]
What’s so funny?
Towers is on BBC2. Can I call you back in half an hour?
I can persuade her to turn the television off, there are a number of other distractions.
What if she gets another call while I’m on the line? What if someone rings
the doorbell? Unlike with real sex, the prospect of being interrupted while
having telephone sex doesn’t add to the thrill. On the contrary, if you’re
a Nervous Nellie like me, it makes the whole thing twice as difficult. I just
can’t seem to sustain the necessary…
interest that great telephone sex requires. What do you recommend, Dr.
Ruth? Is there a telephonic equivalent of Viagra?
problem is the time difference. I tend to get horny last thing at night, say
12.30 a.m. That’s 5:30 a.m. London time. Waking somebody up to have sex
with you at 5:30 a.m. is just about acceptable if you’re sleeping in the
same bed as them–just–but when they’re 3000 miles away you’re
likely to get your ear bitten off. Similarly, when she’s in the mood it
isn’t particularly convenient for me. She tends to call me at midnight,
just before she goes to bed. In New York, that’s 7 p.m., exactly when The
Simpsons starts on Fox channel 5. The most she can hope for is a quickie
during the first ad break.
the conditions are ideal, I’m still far too self-conscious to really get
into it. Another typical exchange goes like this:
are you wearing?
a pair of panties.
color are they?
I’d really like to… [I mumble something]
love to, you know… [I mumble something again]
up. It’s a really bad line.
Now I know
what you’re going to say, Dr. Ruth. If I can write about these intimate
matters for NYPress, how can I possibly be too embarrassed to talk dirty
on the phone? Well, the fact is, we Brits find it a hell of a lot easier to
write about sex than to talk about it. From William Shakespeare to D.H. Lawrence,
we’ve never had a problem with putting it down on paper. Indeed, when it
comes to e-mail sex, my relationship with Caroline is a raging furnace of passion,
a sensual bonfire. We’re talking fireworks.com; we’re @ it morning,
noon and night.
the solution is for each of us to get those CU-CME cameras and mount them on
top of our computers. I hear the images are a bit jerky, but the idea of being
able to see Caroline on my computer screen is very appealing. That way, I could
monitor her bedroom for signs of any other men. On the other hand, the problem
of embarrassment would still arise. I can imagine a typical exchange of typed
your clothes off.
you take your clothes off.
Me: I should
warn you I haven’t been to the gym lately.
are we going to do this or not?
here goes. [I take off my shirt; she looks behind her]
are you looking at?
Me: Is that
a television I can see in the background? Oh my God, you’re watching Fawlty
THE TIRED HEDONIST
Each year around
Labor Day my usual condition of serene idleness becomes tinged with disquietude.
Shouldn’t I be working up lectures for the fall term, or at least preparing
a syllabus? Then I recall with relief that I no longer have anything to do with
the teaching profession.
It is surprisingly
easy to drift into pedagogy. As Evelyn Waugh observed, “Once you
have been educated you can never starve; you can always educate in your
turn. Irregular, ill-paid and in most ways grossly unseemly as the employment
of teaching may be, it is always open to us, whatever our shortcomings.
It is the great privilege from which no misfortune nor disgrace can
ever exclude us.”
education is rather like the clap. You can give it away to anyone without
losing it yourself.
ago, finding myself embarrassed by some debts I had incurred in the course
of nightclubbing, I realized that I had better seek some kind of employment
lest I end up in queer street. When I announced this intention to my
friends, they were astonished. “What? You work?” was
the not very helpful reaction. A look through the help-wanted ads in
the Times reinforced my gloom. I did not seem to be qualified
for any of the occupations listed, with the possible exception of Animal
Carcass Removal. The only response I got to the letters I sent out
came from what proved to be an agency that placed teachers.
I fit to teach? There was no obvious answer to this question, but that
did not deter the guy at the agency. I had a liberal arts education,
didn’t I? I spoke grammatical English and wore a blazer well. Practically
any prep school in New York would be happy to hire me, he said.
place I was sent for an interview was a Jewish school on the Upper East
Side. I went there in the guise of a computer teacher. It was a very
serious place, academically speaking. When I met my interviewers, they
gave me a yarmulke to put on while I was on the premises, even though
I am not Jewish. Wearing the thing made me feel much smarter than usual,
like Bullwinkle’s kerwood derby. That did not, however, keep me
from being intimidated when I was introduced to the students, some of
whom seemed to be already publishing articles in computer science journals.
This was not the job for me.
Then I was
sent to a Catholic prep school for girls, located in a rather grand trio
of townhouses on 5th Ave. The nuns who ran it took to me immediately.
The head one was named Sister Clevie, but the girls called her “Sister
Cleavage.” I was hired to teach a couple of computer courses each
afternoon, the proceeds from which would just defray my drink tabs at
Studio 54 and the Mudd Club. I learned enough about computers to cover
the blackboard with some symbols in case one of the nuns should unexpectedly
drop in on the classroom. On sunny spring afternoons I would take my
class across the street to the steps of the Metropolitan Museum, where
we would spend the hour making fun of the tourists and mimes. Being New
Yorkers, the girls were rather worldly. One of them, an angelic-looking
little thing, came up to me once and said, “Mr. Holt, what’s
better than roses on a piano?” The answer, she announced, was “tulips
on an organ.”
couple of years of this, I decided it was time to make a move to higher
education, where people would address me as “professor.” I
managed to get a job teaching mathematics at a college for women located
a ways up the Hudson. It was also run by nuns, although they apparently
had nothing to do with the previous set of nuns I had dealt with. It
was not a very distinguished academic institution. Its most famous alumna
was one of Andy Warhol’s superstars. The students were ineducable,
which was fine by me, but they were also shockingly earnest, and they
wanted value for their tuition dollar. When, for instance, I would cancel
classes the day after a big party or club opening in New York, they would
complain to their parents, their parents would complain to the dean and
I would get it hot on the carpet. A couple of the least nubile girls–fat,
pimply, bleached blonde–offered me their bodies. The worst thing about
the job was the hour-long commute from Manhattan, made in a noisy little
car stinking of exhaust fumes in the company of several other “professors”
who would spend the whole time heatedly discussing departmental politics,
which were unusually petty and vicious even by academic standards. I
lasted a year.
I had a
somewhat more agreeable experience teaching for a term at one of the
City University campuses. This time the subject was economics. I got
the job quite by accident when, waiting in line at a cash machine, I
recognized one of CUNY’s more distinguished faculty from a recent
appearance on the tv show Firing Line. We had lunch, and a week
later he had arranged for me to replace an adjunct who was beetling off
to Africa. I was a little terrified when I met my first class. The
students seemed about equally divided between Crips and Bloods, although
there was one Jew. They all turned out to be smart and courteous (except
the Jew), but they, too, were ineducable, for two reasons. First, most
of them were working graveyard-shift jobs, so they were too exhausted
to stay awake in class. Second, they had nonexistent high school educations.
So I did the best I could. I watched David Letterman each night,
memorized the monologue and repeated it to the class each day, winding
it up with an entertaining little disquisition on regression analysis
or macroeconomic time series.
trying pedagogical stint was at Columbia, where I had to give a lecture
on the ontological argument for the existence of God in an introductory
philosophy course. Here the students were bright as buttons, but they
made things very difficult for me by asking impertinent questions, such
as, “Why is it more perfect to exist than not to exist?” The
easy way to put down such students is to throw lots of unintelligible
theoretical jargon at them, which is, I am told, what most Ivy League
professors do these days.
In the last
decade, the stock market has done very well and my habits have grown
less ruinously expensive; consequently, I have not had to resort to teaching
again. Would I recommend it to other fops about town who might find themselves
in financial distress without a legitimate means of earning a living?
Probably not. It is clearly better than real and honorable toil. But
pure, squalid sloth is the best of all.
THE SINGULAR EYE
The Rhetoric of Radicalism
you read the last piece I wrote for NYPress, you may recall that I explained
how greatly the meaning we attach to just one little word–modern–affects
all our artistic thinking. The idea of modernism presupposes change–yet
as we all know, change can as easily be for the worse as for the better. To
give just one example, who on Earth thinks “modern” courtesy is better
than the old-fashioned variety?
impetus of modernism in art has relied for much of its life on manipulation
of language, so it is high time we asked ourselves questions of this nature.
If we find that traditional courtesy, say, is preferable to modern manners–which
may be little more than another name for rudeness–then one veil at least
starts slipping from our eyes. In short, more modern does not inevitably mean
better. Why, then, have so many people been persuaded that it does, if only
in the field of the visual arts?
intent or otherwise, the early pioneers of modernism in art set out to capture
and retain the moral ground in the teeth of far greater and more entrenched
opposition than has existed subsequently. As proof of the effectiveness of their
rhetoric, within 40 years or so more or less all visible opposition to their
causes had caved in or vanished. Who wished to be told that they were defying
progress or seeking to put the clock back?
became the lot of intelligent conservatives–or anyone else who opposed
even the silliest excesses of avant-gardism–to find themselves pilloried
as head-in-sand reactionaries or esthetic Colonel Blimps. By aligning their
causes automatically with progress, advance, development, experiment and the
fair winds of change, the apostles of modernism sought to purge even the least
opposition from the corridors of power in museums, universities, art schools,
influential committees, arts broadcasting and so forth. By and large, they succeeded
utterly. Having created hegemony, the next step was to make sure that any vocal
opposition did not reappear.
triumph of modernism in visual art that had happened effectively in the Western
world by the mid-1950s was, above all, a victory for rhetoric. Opposition was
silenced by rhetoric rather than sound argument, which, on the whole, seldom
existed. Thus, who believes Clement Greenberg’s whimsical theories of flatness
which is the natural language of advertising and public relations–i.e.,
language fashioned simply to persuade or impress–had thus successfully
infiltrated an humane discipline for the first time, with catastrophic consequences.
Visual art, which had been historically one of the crowning glories of human
achievement, had been dragged down into a snake pit in which moral reptiles
of various kinds might forever hold sway.
the years of more or less total modernist domination–1955-’85, say–a
widespread nervousness existed that we had all somehow been sold a pup. Things
were not genuinely “Simply marvelous, darling” just because they were
novel. Thinking people everywhere did not believe that visual art should become
an arm of the fashion industry or be subject to similar, p.r.-controlled manipulation.
Thinking people were absolutely right, yet what could they do? Vocal opposition
even to the silliest or nastiest of late modernist excess automatically brought
cold waters of scorn onto the outspoken one’s head: “You are just
the kind of shortsighted fool who would have derided the Impressionists.”
ice fortresses of power, the high priests of modernism must have felt almost
ashamed at times at how easy it had become to deter or deflect all opposition.
A bucket of freezing water here, another one over there… Soon their opponents
seemed to have slipped all the way back to the bottom of the walls of the fortress.
Any dents or scratches they might have made would soon be filled and frozen
over. The ice fortress–and those who operated its mechanisms–remained
as glistening, inviolate and unapproachable as ever.
of Marxism and modernism have been remarkably similar. Both reared their heads,
so far as practical revolutions went, in the early years of this century. Both
began for intellectual reasons that were at the least understandable, but both
reverted, as soon as victory had been gained, to totalitarian power politics
and the attempted quelling of all and any opposition.
Europe, though not in China, most of the old, communist regimes are, at least
temporarily, a thing of the past. What has followed in their wake has frequently
been chaos. Yet in some supposedly postcommunist states, operators of the old
regimes have either retained power or are sniffing about for means of rapidly
regaining it. However, in the new world of so-called postmodernist art, the
transitions have been more painless. To the best of my belief, no old hard-line
modernists have lost their jobs or influence, prompting many to believe that
postmodernism is simply late modernism by another name. Interestingly, the intellectual
chaos caused by postmodernism among the weak-minded parallels the immediate
economic chaos that ensued when those old walls of communism came tumblin’
In the next
month I will be writing articles on why postmodernism is largely a manipulated
myth and why Hilton Kramer’s The Twilight of the Intellectuals is
the 1960s, grownups used a stock line against communism. It might be a nice
idea in theory, budding young leftists were told, but in practice it doesn’t
work. I doubt this argument ever dissuaded anyone from seizing a campus building
or joining a leftist group. Particularly for the young, what is practical counts
for little. And not only for the young. Despite communism’s myriad failures,
thousands of Western student intellectuals held tightly onto the revolutionary
socialist dream, until the Soviet Union actually collapsed.
is dead, for now. But the embrace of unrealizable political dreams by the Western
intellectuals is with us still. The new dreams are as noble and high-minded
sounding as the vision of a more equal and classless society. Multiethnic democracy,
a society purged of racism–these are catchwords for today’s New Class.
And just as sensitive, bookish men were once willing to serve the tyrannies
of Bela Kun and Stalin, Castro and Mao, so today the best and the brightest
are ready for strong measures to remake humanity, for the best of reasons, of
Kosovo war, the singular achievement of Clinton/Blair “Third Way”
foreign policy. Pounded by bombs for months, Belgrade agreed to withdraw its
troops from its southern province. Now, after three months of NATO/United Nations
occupation, it is plain that ethnic cleansing in Kosovo has not been stopped,
come from a different group–today they are not Albanians but Serbs, Orthodox
Christians, a suspect tribe in the liberal West. Since Clinton’s “victory,”
nearly 90 percent of Kosovo’s Serbs have been forced to flee their homes.
That is to say, a greater proportion of Serbs have been ethnically cleansed
under NATO’s eyes during conditions of ostensible peace than Albanians
were forced out by Milosevic’s men during war.
conclusion would seem not that the Serbs are good and Albanians evil, or vice
versa. It is that these are peoples who are not–for a long time to come–fated
to live harmoniously together. So logically the Serbs have proposed–as
an alternative to having all their people driven out of Kosovo–that defensible
cantons be created for those remaining. In other words, partition. Or, as The
New York Times labels it, “segregation.” For reasons that could
only be ideological, the Clintonites have opposed this: Partition would acknowledge
the failure of “multiethnic democracy” touted by Clinton as the key
American war aim. Better, think the Clintonites, an unending flow of Serbian
refugees than an admission that Washington has no way to compel the Balkan peoples
to live together peacefully.
of authoritarian liberalism stretch beyond the Balkans, and will eventually
come home to roost. An early sighting was provided by Harvard psychiatrist Alvin
Poussaint in a New York Times op-ed piece. He urged that “extreme”
racists be classified as mentally ill, and “treated.” Obviously there
are laws on the books enough to deal with the violent criminals, racist or not,
so it is probably not they who Poussaint has in mind for treatment.
about those who, for instance, don’t believe in busing for school integration,
or the use of coercive methods to make neighborhoods ethnically balanced, or
racial quotas in universities or the workplace? Though such views are probably
held by a majority of Americans, those who promote them actively are regularly
derided as racists and bigots by the liberal intelligentsia. Or what about Charles
Murray, co-author of The Bell Curve, or that book’s admirers: What
to do with them?
Thomas Szasz once observed that in a society that believes that moral values
don’t justify coercion but that health values do, those who want to coerce
others will expand the category of health values to carry out their aims. He
might have had schemes like Poussaint’s in mind.
a precedent for them. From Lenin’s time onward, political opponents of
the Soviet regime were sometimes relegated to mental hospitals. In the Brezhnev
era, the practice of putting dissidents in special psychiatric wards was expanded,
regularized. Some Soviet psychiatrists argued that dissent was a manifestation
of schizophrenia, to be treated with punitive and brutal techniques. Could Poussaint’s
concept of compulsory psychiatric treatment of racists gain ground here? It
seems far-fetched, in a nation with such deep-rooted traditions of liberty.
But 20 years ago, no one could have fathomed that an American president would
bomb Yugoslavia for months in order to promote “multiethnic democracy”
while America’s liberal political elite cheered him on. Belief systems
that hold that it is not only possible but necessary to remake society top to
bottom allow people to commit great crimes, all in good conscience.
The Birth of a Nation?
about how you’ll get through a winter of CNN-watching without Kosovo? Relax.
There is yet another insignificant, impoverished, godforsaken few square miles
of earth somewhere that is about to collapse into civil war.
is East Timor. Its population is 871,000–less than half the size of Kosovo’s.
Its economy–if that is not too grand a word–is a good deal less than
half the size of Kosovo’s. East Timor has just conducted a referendum on
whether to leave Indonesia and become an independent state–an event, in
other words, that should be of less than earth-shattering significance. Yet
moral posturing and armchair strategizing has by now so corrupted American policymaking
that we can already predict the one certain outcome of this vote: East Timor’s
indefinite dependence on the United States.
not matter who the winner of the referendum is, for the loser will not accept
the outcome. The population is divided into those who want independence and
are prepared to kill anyone who is in the way, and those who reject independence
and are prepared to kill anyone who is in the way. East Timor will inevitably
descend into bloody chaos and the United States will be compelled to intervene.
Christiane Amanpour and Jamie Rubin will then tell us that, despite the daily
butchery, the creation of the spanking new state of East Timor was still a splendid
administration has been pushing for an independent East Timor from its earliest
days. This is just what we might have expected from a regime that came to power
championing the dubious state of Bosnia. An independent East Timor means about
as much as an independent Bosnia. Neither state had ever existed as an independent
entity. Neither state is ethnically homogeneous. Both states had their boundaries
set by a few gentlemen over conference tables many miles away. East Timor is
simply that half of the island of Timor that belonged to the Portuguese empire.
The boundaries were decided on by the Portuguese and the Dutch who occupied
the other half. West Timor belongs indisputably to Indonesia. Yet the inhabitants
of East and West Timor are pretty much the same people; the only difference
between them is that some of them were ruled by the Portuguese and some by the
Dutch. Yet the “international community”–the United States, in
other words–has decreed that East and West Timor must remain separate entities.
empire was the least significant of the European empires. It is not even clear
why the Portuguese owned East Timor except perhaps that it was such a wretched
place that none of the major imperial powers could be bothered to take it away
from them. The Portuguese held onto their empire long after other empires had
been surrendered, until it came to reflect the irrelevance of Portugal itself,
and was given up only in 1974. East Timor immediately degenerated into civil
war. Fearing a Communist takeover, Indonesia invaded the territory in December
1975. In July 1976, East Timor was proclaimed to be province of Indonesia. A
ferocious war ensued between the Indonesian army and the Fretilin independence
repression was certainly pretty brutal. On the other hand, Indonesian authorities
did nothing to East Timorese it was not doing to other Indonesians. Indonesia
had always been a geographic fiction. The name refers to the Dutch East Indies,
which itself referred to nothing more than the collection of East Asian colonies
in the possession of the Netherlands. The Indonesian archipelago consists of
more than 13,000 islands, 6000 of which are inhabited. The inhabitants are divided
by ethnicity, religion and their 583 languages. Javanese, Chinese, Madurese,
Balinese, Sasaks, Torajans, Minahasans, Buginese, Dayaks, Irianese, Acehnese,
Minangkabau, Bataks, Timorese, Moluccan Ambonese–these ethnic groups have
very little in common with one another other than that they lived on islands
that were once ruled by the Dutch. The official language is Bahasa Indonesian,
a modified form of Malay. Yet only some seven million people speak it, compared
to some 70 million who speak Javanese, 25 million who speak Sundanese, 10 million
who speak Malay and nine million who speak Madurese.
For 50 years,
ever since Indonesia became “independent,” the country was held together
by repression. This worked well while the economy was growing. But the East
Asian economic collapse of the last couple of years brought about a descent
into violent conflict between political, ethnic and religious groups. There
are separatist movements; struggles between indigenous peoples and others forcibly
resettled in their territory; Muslims fighting Muslims; Muslims fighting Christians;
and just about everyone fighting the Chinese.
United States this poses a tricky dilemma. It does not want Indonesia to disintegrate.
Indonesia is a crucial piece on the great geopolitical chessboard. Located along
the major sea lanes linking the Indian and Pacific Oceans, an Indonesia broken
into small renegade states could choke off some of the world’s most important
passageways, the Straits of Malacca and Lombok. Disintegration would threaten
Asia’s oil supply from the Persian Gulf, as well as Asia’s exports
to Europe. Indonesia, moreover, plays an important part in the grand strategy
of “containing” China. Yet independence for East Timor will obviously
encourage all the other secessionist movements.
realpolitik that demands maintenance of the territorial integrity of Indonesia
is obviously in conflict with the Clintonian moralizing that led to the Kosovo
debacle. Clinton has embraced the cause of an independent East Timor, probably
for no better reason than that this was a fashionable left-wing cause. In 1996
Jose Ramos-Horta, one of the leaders of the East Timor independence movement,
was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Clinton had moreover developed a hatred for
So it was
left to the IMF–now little more than an agency of the U.S. government–to
pull the plug on Suharto. When the Thai currency collapsed in 1997, the Indonesian
rupiah came under pressure. The IMF pushed Suharto to float the rupiah, which
then went through the floor, as the IMF knew it would. The now-desperate Suharto
discovered that to obtain support for his currency he must undertake a drastic
overhaul of the government and banking system. He complied, causing a panic
and driving huge amounts of capital out of the country. Suharto had walked into
a trap, even though to the bitter end he helplessly obeyed Washington’s
command. Suharto thus joined the long list of leaders–Noriega, Saddam,
Somoza, Duvalier, Marcos, Mobutu–abandoned by the United States once they
had ceased to be useful.
Asia the United States believes it can get an independent East Timor–thanks
to its latest toady, Indonesian President Habibie–without this leading
to the disintegration of Indonesia itself. But thanks partly to U.S. policy
in Kosovo, irredentist movements are on a high worldwide. And Indonesia will
disintegrate, just as surely as did Yugoslavia.