Friday, November 24, 2006
Confessional. posted by Richard SeymourAs far as the ruling class is concerned, the world really does reflect how its interests dictate it should be, and its behaviour really is virtuous. This necessarily means that its victims are nothing but chaff, people who lost the cosmic struggle for survival and supremacy. The system really is impeccably sane and meritocratic, and no reasonable person could see it any other way. What is more, any internal antagonism, any failure of the chaff to live up to its role as power house or fertiliser, has to be explained as an exogenous: it's all agitating Reds, a global conspiracy of semites of one kind or another. McCarthy will find them out. Stalin will find them out. When Stalin's henchmen tortured people for confessions, they wanted an admission that what it was doing was right, not merely for the records, not merely for public consumption: after all, they could have simply faked evidence of a confession, or even not bothered with a confession at all. It isn't as if anyone would have known worse or better. The confession has the function of confirming for the ruling class that its system is perfect, and that it is virtuous.
The pursuit of confessions is also a sadistic exertion of power, the forcing of a person to admit that the ruling class determines what is true and what is not. If the Fuhrer wants it, two and two equals five. The persistent use of torture even where it is known full well that no reliable information is to be obtained, say in Bagram or Abu Ghraib can't be explained in strict utilitarian terms, but it can be understood as an attempt to secure submission.
There is also the propagandistic function of course. Years of terrorism and sanctions against Libya, followed by a sudden and rather welcome bribe, produced an utterly phoney confession of guilt as to WMD development and involvement in terrorism. It corroborated the story that there were these Arab states that pursued these two evils, and did so at an important strategic moment. Factually, it was rubbish: I've touched on the preposterousness of the Lockerbie trial before, and again I urge you to consult the late Paul Foot's writing about this, and of course there was even an admission at the time that Libya did not really possess WMDs or even the beginnings of a programme. But it was most welcome, and it proved that the world really does work according to the maxim that "you're either with us or against us".
Finally, there is the straightforward cover for extortion. The occupiers of Afghanistan have, in securing the country, shipped a huge amount of cash to Hazrat Ali's gang. Ali, an old-time warlord who runs approximately 6,000 soldiers in the east of Afghanistan, has an interesting way of raising cash. His gang arrests alleged Taliban supporters, tortures them and gets the family to pay 'compensation' to get the person released. The belief that punishment itself proves guilt is thereby compounded by the family's tacit confession, in the form of compensatory payments.
And now the question is, can the same logic be applied to Syria? The Baker commission may well recommend 'dialogue' with Assad, but can this in practise mean a thorough confession of guilt in various assassinations - not by Assad himself, but perhaps by rogue elements - and a declaration that Syria is with, rather than against, 'us'? Will a combination of threats and bribery result in Syria paying out compensation, as Libya offered to pay the victims of the Lockerbie bombing? Perhaps Syria did actually do it, but it seems to me that the matter of who actually did assassinate Pierre Gemayel is not going to be determined by thorough investigation from the ever-pliable UN. It is going to be determined by power politics. It is, of course, unthinkable to blame Israel or the United States, despite the fact that they are obvious suspects. It is unthinkable because the world doesn't work that way: such an assassination by the US or Israel would, if acknowledge, annihilate the notion that the West only assassinates the bad guys, the chaff (which, of course, it does so openly and celebrates the results). So, as I say, the question is not going to be whether the Syrian government killed the fascist Gemayel, but whether the Syrian government will abandon even the pretense of independent nationalism and corroborate the West's story.
(I omit one other kind of confession, the kind that is offered defiantly and ironically - yes, yes, I am an extremist, I am indeed a witch, also a fanatic, and a terrorist to boot. I am evil. But this kind is no use to the ruling class.)