Documentário explora as raízes e o legado da maior manifestação política do século 21 – Resenha sobre “We Are Many”, um filme de Amir Amirani

Naquele 15 de Fevereiro de 2003,slogan que dá nome ao filme We Are Many era mais verdadeiro do que no comum dos dias. Naquela ocasião extraordinária, estima-se que 15 milhões de pessoas tomaram as ruas de mais de 700 cidades, em todos os continentes, em protesto contra a iminente deflagração de uma guerra contra o Iraque.

Capitaneada pelos EUA, pela Grã-Bretanha e por seus aliados, mancomunados numa Coalizão Internacional que pretendia aniquilar o chamado Eixo do Mal (Axis of Evil), a Guerra do Iraque desde seus primórdios sofreu uma maré de oposição tão gigantesca que fez muitos analistas políticos lembrar das mobilizações sessentistas pelo fim da carnificina Yankee no Vietnã.

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2003, mundo afora: “give peace a chance!” (reloaded)

 We Are Many, o documentário de Amir Amirani,  revela de modo explícito as raízes e os legados desta imensa mobilização internacional anti-guerra. Mundo afora, naquele Sábado de Fevereiro de 2003, éramos de fato muitos, solidários na indignação, ruidosos contestadores daqueles masters of war denunciados pelo jovem Bob Dylan ainda nos anos 60.

Fluindo pelas veias das metrópoles em torrentes de indignação, flooding the streets with a beautiful rage, havia a esperança – que depois se mostraria vã – de que era possível dar uma chance à paz. Infelizmente, no fim das contas, como Lennon, Gandhi ou Martin Luther King poderiam testemunhar, a violência com frequência triunfa sobre o cadáver dos pacifistas.


Havia a percepção coletiva cada vez mais disseminada que esta nova guerra era baseada em velhas canalhices – ambição petrolífera, ganância corporativa, imperialismo etnocêntrico. Era a repetição sinistra daquela constelação de vícios e cegueiras que leva o Império anglo-saxão a fazer pose de xerife do mundo e de pretender-se, com uma arrogância que ultrapassa todos os limites do razoável e cai em uma trágica hýbris de funestas consequências, como dono da verdade e da justiça, professor e exportador de Democracia para os “povos bárbaros” do Terceiro Mundo.

As mega-manifestações estavam fundadas de fato numa  percepção muito disseminada de que muita mentira e hipocrisia estavam sendo empregadas, de modo despudorado e escandaloso, por figuras como George W. Bush e Tony Blair, apoiados por boa parte dos respectivos Parlamentos e por boa parte dos conglomerados da mídia corporativa,  para justificar o início dos massacres. Hoje, Bush e Blair são figuras merecedoras de entrar para a história como genocidas, como culpados de crimes contra a humanidade similares aos de Eichmanns, Pol Pots e Pinochets, por todo o sangue derramado durante as campanhas militares deflagradas no Iraque em 2003 e cujas consequências sinistras mudaram o mundo para sempre – para pior, é claro.

Em Fevereiro de 2003, nós éramos muitos e sabíamos muito bem que a guerra estava sendo justificada com pretextos espúrios e mentiras deslavadas:todas as falsas conexões que tentou-se estabelecer entre o regime de Saddam Hussein e a Al Qaeda, entre o Iraque e o 11 de Setembro, eram links mentirosos, assim como as famosas “almas de destruição em massa” que supostamente fariam do Iraque um perigoso inimigo da humanidade simplesmente não foram encontradas. Talvez pelo fato de que os EUA é que são os maiores detentores globais de weapons of mass destruction que ameaçam o futuro da Humanidade… Sobre as ideologias fabricadas pelo totalitarismo Yankee, José Arbex Jr escreveu excelentes textos – como este, “Jornalismo de Verdade”, em que relembra Orwell, Huxley e Arendt para apresentar algumas das lorotas de mass deception que o Estado dos EUA usa comumente:

Em “1984”, George Orwell cria uma fantástica metáfora para explicar os mecanismos utilizados pelo poder para produzir a amnésia social: a história é permanentemente reescrita, sempre de acordo com as conveniências dos mandatários de plantão. É perigoso ter ou cultivar a memória dos fatos, e muito pior – inimaginável – é olhar para o passado segundo uma perspectiva crítica. Também no “Admirável Mundo Novo” de Aldous Huxley a percepção dos acontecimentos cotidianos é fabricada por uma engenharia social arquitetada por poucos que sabem e conhecem a dinâmica real dos processos históricos. O tema se repete, com variações, em muitos outros clássicos da ficção, na literatura e no cinema, que se preocuparam com a formação das sociedades totalitárias.

Passando à implacável esfera do “mundo real”, Hannah Arendt nota que, de fato, a produção social do esquecimento é inerente ao exercício do poder nos regimes autoritários ou mesmo em boa parte dos sistemas dito democráticos. (…) Interessa, por exemplo, a George W. Bush apresentar Osama Bin Laden como um ícone do terror islâmico, desde que se esqueça que ele foi treinado e armado pela CIA, para ajudar a Casa Branca a combater a ocupação do Afeganistão pelo Exército Vermelho (1979-1989); da mesma forma, a partir de certo momento, passou a ser vantajoso para Washington acusar o ex-ditador iraquiano Saddam Hussein de ser o responsável pelo males do mundo, mas relegando ao mais profundo buraco negro da história o fato de ele ter sido armado pelos Estados Unidos, nos anos 80, com o objetivo de mover sua providencial guerra contra o Irã do aiatolá Khomeini.

Também interessa repetir à exaustão que o ataque às torres gêmeas, em 11 de Setembro de 2001, foi o “pior atentado terrorista da história”, pois isso ajuda a esquecer, entre outras coisas, o bombardeio atômico sobre a população civil de Hiroshima e Nagasáqui, em agosto de 1945. (JOSÉ ARBEX JR., prefácio à “Rompendo à Cerca – A História do MST, SAIBA MAIS)

O fato é que, no período entre os atentados de 11 de Setembro de 2011 e a irrupção desta mega-manifestação, orquestrada com auxílio das redes de comunicação digitais globalizadas, um caldeirão de indignação foi sendo aquecido até o ponto de ebulição. Às vésperas do início da carnificina que deixaria mais de 500.000 civis iraquianos mortos e que geraria mais de 4 milhões de refugiados, várias metrópoles relevantes foram tomadas de assalto por uma multidão em marcha pacifista que buscava parar a guerra antes que ela começasse. Em Londres, em Roma, em Madrid, em Atenas, em Nova York, foram realizadas algumas das mais grandiosas marchas do século 21 naquele 15 de Fevereiro de 2003, o que não escapou à percepção dos maiores intelectuais vivos – como Noam Chomsky.

 O filme We Are Many é vibrante, interessante, repleto de imagens com imenso mérito como retrato histórico. Porém, não vai fundo no debate sobre o que possibilitou, tanto em termos de tecnologia quanto em termos de organização e mobilização social, aquilo que foi justamente chamado de “primeiro megaprotesto global”. São fenômenos sociais da grandiosidade e da complexidade do 15 de Fevereiro de 2003 que oferecem muito material para reflexão de intelectuais e críticos dos mais relevantes da atualidade – é o caso de Manuel Castells (autor de Redes de Indignação e Esperança) ou David Graeber (autor de Democracia: Um Projeto).

O cinema de não-ficção têm se mostrado como um dos âmbitos mais importantes para a crítica e a denúncia dos horrores vinculados à infindável Guerra Contra o Terror, o que fica evidente através de outros documentários excelentes como Procedimento Operacional Padrão, de Errol Morris, que revela as entranhas apodrecidas do sistema que pariu a prisão de Abu Ghraib e todos as horríveis torturas ali perpetradas; Estrada Para Guantánamo, de Michael Winterbottom, que revela a realidade sobre a prisão mantida pelos EUA em território cubano; Farenheit 9/11, de Michael Moore, um vencedor da Palma de Cannes que revela todo o zeitgeist que rodeia o período pós-11 de Setembro; Taxi To The Dark Side, de Alex Gibney, que revela os múltiplos lados sombrios da invasão do Afeganistão; dentre outros. We Are Many é uma louvável contribuição a esta pedagógica e crucial filmografia.

Através de filmes assim ficamos sabemos que, junkies de petróleo, fissurados nos dólares aos bilhões que são gerados pela indústria armamentista, as elites que comandam os Estados Nacionais dos EUA e da Inglaterra puseram sua máquina de guerra em movimento contra o Iraque em 2003 sem absolutamente nenhuma prova ou evidência conclusiva de que o regime de Hussein tinha qualquer participação nos atentados de 11 de Setembro. Esta guerra, apesar de todo o lengalenga retórico e toda a embromação massmidiática, foi mais um grotesco episódio da infindável tendência do complexo militar industrial, mancomunado com as corporações de combustíveis fósseis, para seguirem lucrando com a morte e a destruição. Naomi Klein poderia dizer: é a Shock Doctrine em infinito repeat.

O próprio Conselho de Segurança da ONU, antes da invasão, mandou inspetores ao Iraque, checou se haviam ali bombas ou mísseis que pudessem pôr em perigo o poderoso Império anglo-saxão, e nada. Nada encontrou-se no Iraque que pudesse justificar uma “guerra preventiva”, o que logo descortinou de modo explícito a qualquer cidadão lúcido, bem-informado e capaz de usar seus neurônios que esta guerra estava sendo lançada sem fundamentos sólidos que a legitimassem, sustentada por grotescas mentiras tornadas “oficiais” com a cumplicidade de uma mídia corporativa vendida aos bélicos patrões.

O filme traz depoimentos e reflexões de figuras como os intelectuais Noam Chomsky e Tariq Ali, os músicos Brian Eno e Damon Albarn (Blur, Gorillaz), o romancista John Le Carré e o cineasta Ken Loach, além de figuras importantes da política, da diplomacia e do pensamento político, reconstruindo as raízes e os legados do 15 de Fevereiro de 2003. Entre as “sacadas” mais relevantes do filme está o estabelecimento de vínculos diretos entre a Revolução Egípcia de 2011, quando megaprotestos populares que culminaram na ocupação da Praça Tahrir e na renúncia de Mubarak à presidência, e a escola de insurreição que foram, no Cairo, aqueles dias de 2003 quando o Iraque começou a ser bombardeado e os egípcios foram em imensas torrentes para as ruas protestar. Um outro documentário – The Square – analisa em minúcias a Revolução Egípcia, parte da onda mais ampla que ficou conhecida como Primavera Árabe.

Um dos temas mais interessantes que We Are Many levanta, fornecendo amplo material para debate, é as razões para o fracasso da megamobilização global em prol da Paz. O documentário é, decerto, bastante celebratório deste movimento pacifista e sua capacidade mobilizatória impressionante – algo que voltaria a dar as caras, no âmbito do chamado “Mundo Ocidental”, com muita força também em 2014 na People’s Climate March.

Porém We Are Many também revela a decepção, a abissal queda no ânimo coletivo, que se seguiu à percepção da ineficácia concreta da “maior manifestação de todos os tempos” em pôr um stop nos planos da Coalização Internacional Contra o Terrorismo, auto-proclamada em Sagrada Cruzada contra o “Eixo do Mal”. Este é um dos temas que considero sub-discutido, bastante negligenciado: tendemos a criar uma espécie de mística da manifestação de rua, às vezes beirando a mais irracional das superstições, acreditando piamente na força numérica de massas em desfile pelas ruas como agentes de transformação, mas não nos perguntamos mais à fundo o que constitui de fato um perigo para o poder instituído. 

Por mais grandiosas que tenham sido as manifestações de 15 de Fevereiro de 2003, elas claramente não coibiram ou proibiram a guerra. Eu até me arriscaria a dizer, sem medo de despertar polêmica, que uma das explicações para este fato está na natureza pouco aguerrida dos protestos, que em vasta medida consistiram em cidadãos carregando placas e cartazes, que andaram em multidões pelas metrópoles gritando palavras de ordem, sem que tenham, na maior parte dos casos, tentado ocupar prédios públicos ou governamentais ou deflagar greves gerais que pudessem parar a produção ou travar o fluxo dos transportes, das mercadorias e dos capitais. O poder do Império pode ter ficado impressionado, mas não se sentiu realmente ameaçado lá onde ele possui seu calcanhar de Aquiles: seu bolso, ou melhor, suas Bolsas. Os 15 milhões de cidadãos nas ruas não puderam causar um estrago significativo na economia de guerra, seja através de boicotes organizados contra corporações vinculadas ao ramo bélico, seja através de ocupas ou acampas que colocassem em sinuca as instituições.

O músico Damon Albarn, do Blur/Gorillaz, sugere que a raiz do fracasso deste mega-movimento pacifista esteve no fato de que ele perdeu força e momentum: a multidão deveria ter continuado a ir para as ruas de modo torrencial, ao invés de permitir que a maré de insurgência cidadã ficasse limitada apenas àquele Sábado. Se a galera tivesse continuado a colar – “if we kept coming back…”, diz Albarn – talvez a paz pudesse ter triunfado. Eis outra das lições da Primavera Árabe: uma manifestação de rua, por mais gigantesca que seja, é episódica e efêmera, as pessoas retornam logo às suas casas; a potência contestatória maior está na ocupação – como ocorreu na Praça Tahrir ou durante o Occupy Wall Street – que toma conta do espaço público e diz que ele só será liberado quando certas demandas forem concedidas.

Em 15 de Fevereiro, pode-se dizer que nenhum Bastilha foi tomada, que nenhum intento revolucionário foi posto em marcha, e que mesmo os conflitos com a polícia foram pouquíssimos, a não ser em Atenas (na Grécia). É notável o contraste com o quanto o pau quebrou nos protestos de Seattle em 1999. Poderíamos dizer que, se o pau não quebrou, se não rolou tropa de choque e gás lacrimogêneo, se manifestantes quase não foram encarcerados, foi porque o 15 de Fevereiro de 2003 confundiu pacifismo com bom-mocismo e não exerceu com suficiente radicalidade as práticas de Desobediência Civil que através da história foram utilizadas para contestar regimes ilegítimos, opressores e genocidas.

O filme não é ingênuo, nem faz crer em quimeras, pois mostra muito bem o modo com as chefias políticas, os Parlamentos, os cabeças do Exército, os figurões no Pentágono, os brits cheios de regalias na House of Commons, basicamente levantaram um dedo médio elitista para a voz das ruas e disseram, basicamente, “foda-se!” Foda-se que há milhões de pessoas nas ruas protestando em um Sábado de Fevereiro de 2003 contra a deflagração de uma guerra contra o Iraque; foda-se, iremos em frente assim mesmo. E assim o fizeram, em Março, dando o foda-se não só para as torrentes de cidadãos que manifestavam-se em Fevereiro, mas também para a Organização das Nações Unidas: a ONU declarou a invasão ilegal e esta foi realizada à revelia do Conselho de Segurança. Crime de guerra.


Dentre os pensadores políticos que conheço, ninguém melhor que Arundhati Roy descreveu o momento histórico logo após o 11 de Setembro. Na sequência, selecionei alguns trechos de sua obra que são excelentes para pensar criticamente sobre todo este nosso lodaçal de sangue e violência. Considero seus livros – em especial The Algebra of Infinite Justice Listening to Grasshoppers, além dos discursos Imperial Democracy Come September – algumas uma das mais preciosas portas de acesso a uma compreensão mais ampla do zeitgeist que entre nós prolonga sua estadia: o fantasma de um fascismo genocida que tenta convencer-nos que há imenso perigo em um certo Outro demonizado – uma raça, uma seita, uma ideologia… -, um Outro alcunhado de malévolo sem remissão e só merecedor de ser extirpado com violência.

De George Bush a Donald Trump, as ideologias e das práticas da Guerra Contra O Terror estão ligadas à presunção e à arrogância de um american way of thinking que vem todo tingido com cores fascistas pois reduz vastas porções da humanidade àquilo que Naomi Klein chamou de “zonas de sacrifício” (como o Afeganistão, a Síria, a Palestina…). O Sonho Americano – aquele engodo que, segundo o humorista George Carlin, só compram e só acreditam aqueles que estão dormindo… – gerou o monstro destes líderes que se dizem os artífices do Bem absoluto e da Vontade de Deus sobre a Terra, quando na real só cometem mega-carnificinas em prol de petróleo e lucros, enquanto tratam irmãos em vida e humanidade como se pertencessem a uma zona de matabilidade livre semelhante aos videogames à la Doom Counter Strike.

Eduardo Carli de Moraes


A ÁLGEBRA DA JUSTIÇA INFINITA
ou DEMOCRACIA IMPERIAL: COMPRE UMA, LEVE A OUTRA DE GRAÇA

por Arundathi Roy

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“For strategic, military and economic reasons, it is vital for the US government to persuade the American public that America’s commitment to freedom and democracy and the American Way of Life is under attack. In the current atmosphere of grief, outrage and anger, it’s an easy notion to peddle. However, if that were true, it’s reasonable to wonder why the symbols of America’s economic and military dominance—the World Trade Center and the Pentagon—were chosen as the targets of the attacks. Why not the Statue of Liberty? Could it be that the stygian anger that led to the attacks has its taproot not in American freedom and democracy, but in the US government’s record of commitment and support to exactly the opposite things—to military and economic terrorism, insurgency, military dictatorship, religious bigotry and unimaginable genocide (outside America)?” (ARUNDHATI ROY,  “The Algebra Of Infinite Justice”, 08 de Outubro de 2001)

“When the United States invaded Iraq, a New York Times/CBS News survey estimated that 42 percent of the American public believed that Saddam Hussein was directly responsible for the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. And an ABC News poll said that 55 percent of Americans believed that Saddam Hussein directly supported Al Qaida. None of this opinion is based on evidence (because there isn’t any). All of it is based on insinuation, auto-suggestion, and outright lies circulated by the U.S. corporate media, otherwise known as the “Free Press,” that hollow pillar on which contemporary American democracy rests.

Public support in the U.S. for the war against Iraq was founded on a multi-tiered edifice of falsehood and deceit, coordinated by the U.S. government and faithfully amplified by the corporate media.

mass deceptionApart from the invented links between Iraq and Al Qaida, we had the manufactured frenzy about Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction. George Bush the Lesser went to the extent of saying it would be “suicidal” for the U.S. not to attack Iraq. We once again witnessed the paranoia that a starved, bombed, besieged country was about to annihilate almighty America. (Iraq was only the latest in a succession of countries – earlier there was Cuba, Nicaragua, Libya, Grenada, and Panama.) But this time it wasn’t just your ordinary brand of friendly neighborhood frenzy. It was Frenzy with a Purpose. It ushered in an old doctrine in a new bottle: the Doctrine of Pre-emptive Strike, a.k.a. The United States Can Do Whatever The Hell It Wants, And That’s Official.

The war against Iraq has been fought and won and no Weapons of Mass Destruction have been found. Not even a little one. Perhaps they’ll have to be planted before they’re discovered. And then, the more troublesome amongst us will need an explanation for why Saddam Hussein didn’t use them when his country was being invaded.

Of course, there’ll be no answers. True Believers will make do with those fuzzy TV reports about the discovery of a few barrels of banned chemicals in an old shed.

In stark contrast to the venality displayed by their governments, on the 15th of February, weeks before the invasion, in the most spectacular display of public morality the world has ever seen, more than 10 million people marched against the war on 5 continents. Many of you, I’m sure, were among them. They – we – were disregarded with utter disdain. When asked to react to the anti-war demonstrations, President Bush said, “It’s like deciding, well, I’m going to decide policy based upon a focus group. The role of a leader is to decide policy based upon the security, in this case the security of the people.”Democracy, the modern world’s holy cow, is in crisis. And the crisis is a profound one. Every kind of outrage is being committed in the name of democracy. It has become little more than a hollow word, a pretty shell, emptied of all content or meaning. It can be whatever you want it to be. Democracy is the Free World’s whore, willing to dress up, dress down, willing to satisfy a whole range of taste, available to be used and abused at will.

Until quite recently, right up to the 1980’s, democracy did seem as though it might actually succeed in delivering a degree of real social justice.

But modern democracies have been around for long enough for neo-liberal capitalists to learn how to subvert them. They have mastered the technique of infiltrating the instruments of democracy – the “independent” judiciary, the “free” press, the parliament – and molding them to their purpose. The project of corporate globalization has cracked the code. Free elections, a free press, and an independent judiciary mean little when the free market has reduced them to commodities on sale to the highest bidder.”  (ARUNDHATI ROY, Imperial Democracy)

The Threat of Totalitarianism Today – Or Why Hannah Arendt Still Matters

9780142437568

Philosopher Hannah Arendt (1906-1975), photographed in Paris, 1935.

THE THREAT OF TOTALITARIANISM TODAY

(OR: WHY ARENDT STILL MATTERS)

By Eduardo Carli de Moraes @ Awestruck Wanderer

It’s an obvious fact that the books of great philosophers survive the physical existence of the philosophers themselves: their thought is alive for decades or centuries after their deaths, ideas kept safe, like a treasure in a trunk, in the books they’ve written. Even tough they are no longer among the living, we are still under their influence, and our thought and judgement can be expanded and enriched by their legacy. A dead philosopher may have a long future after the brain that used to act inside his or her skull has vanished from the world. Looked in this perspective, it’s perfectly legitimate to ask, for example: “what would Arendt have to teach us about Abu Ghraib and the War on Terror? What would Arendt say, if she was alive today, about the danger of totalitarian horror happening again in the future? And nowadays, where would Arendt recognize a totalitarian regime in action, here and now? “

Similarly, one might ask: what would Nietzsche have to say about the III Reich and the Nazi’s “Final Solution”? What opinions would Spinoza nurture about the Enlightenment thinkers or the French Revolution? Would Plato agree with Jesus Christ if they had ever met? And what about Hannah Arendt, if she was living today, would she criticize some of our societies as totalitarian regimes? This sort of questions, in which one tries to figure out what some thinker would consider about historical events or people he or she didn’t live to witness, may seem to many of us some sort of absurd anachronism. Some may argue that this line of questioning may have its value only as an intellectual exercise, but can never achieve truthfulness because it relies too much on speculation and conjectures; it’s just philosophy acting in science-fiction-mode, right?

27388_hannah_arendt_olgemtlde_heidemarie_kull_copyrigt (1)Well, Hannah Arendt’s case is interesting to adress, in this context, because she seems to be one of the alivest of all dead philosophers. And scholars, researchers, political theorists and journalists keep invoking Hannah Arendt’s thought to explain recent stuff, such as the Abu Ghraib scandal, which brought to light the wide-spread use of torture as the U.S. Army’s “interrogation method” at the detention centers for suspects of terrorism. An excellent doc about it is Errol Morris’ Standard Operating Procedure (2008)

In an article published by New Internationalist Magazine, for example, Sean Willcock evokes Arent’s très celèbre “the banality of evil” to explain Abu Ghraib’s mixture of terrible disrespect for basic human rights, combined with the banality of soldiers who took “selfies” with smiling faces, aparently stupidly unaware of the crushed dignity of those fellow humans they were humiliating, torturing and killing.


Also recommended: Standard Operating Procedure, a documentary by Errol Morris

Hannah_Arendt_Film_PosterIn our technologically connected “global village”, philosophers can also be brought back from their graves by other means than books, of course. Recently, Hannah Arednt was summoned from the tomb to appear as protagonist of Margaret Von Trotta’s bio-pic. Even tough it’s mainly an historical and biographical film, mostly about the Eichmman case, I feel there’s a lot to be found in the film to enlighten us nowadays (see, for example, this excellent article about the film @ “MantleThought.org).

I deeply agree with Celso Lafer when he argues: “Arendt is a classic in Bobbio’s meaning of the word: an author whose concepts, even tough developed in the past, still serve us to understand the world of the present.” There’s good fruits to be gained by trying to re-think and re-actualize Arendt’s thought, instead of treating it as fixed: wouldn’t it be better to deal with her works in a dynamic way, expanding it and adapting it to serve as tools for our understanding of new occurences? Of course this sort of thinking is based on what I’d call imaginative speculation, dangerously on peril of betraying a writer when transplanting him – or his ideas – to another era. But doesn’t the merit of a certain thinker lie also in what he has to say to posterity, what can be learned in his books by those who came afterwards?

In her book Why Arendt Matters, Elisabeth Young-Bruehl mobilizes Hannah Arendt concepts and theories in order to understand events that happened after Arendt’s death in 1975. What would Arendt have to teach us, for example, about suicide bombers on a jihad against “the West” and who hope to be rewarded in Afterlife by Allmighty Allah? And what would she teach us about the “War on Terror”, the military invasion of Afheganistan, Iraq and Pakistan, which were unleashed after the September 11th attacks in 2001?

Arendt’s inspiring intellectual courage, I think, lies in her ability to go beyond simple moral outrage. She tries to understand things that most people are so horrified of that they’d rather not even try to understand them. Instead of being paralysed in horror in front of such terrible realities – Hiroshimas and Auschwitzes, gulags and atom bombs… – Arednt confronts these realities and tries to judge them, understand them, put them in historical context, portray a web of relations inside which they occur. That’s why Arendt’s procedure, whether she analyses imperialism or anti-semitism or totalitarian societies, can be used by us today in order to enhance our understanding of our current geopolitical landscape.

9780300120448The Nazi concentration camps, those “factories of death”, made the most horrendous criminal acts into a day-to-day process. Trying to understand an era of genocide in industrial scale, Hannah Arendt never acts with simplistic demonization of the Nazis, for example. It would be narrow-minded and deranged to say that Hitler or Goebbels or Eichmann were “possessed by the Devil”, or have been born with innate evilness. Hannah Arendt tries to understand the emergence of “a new type of criminal, the consequence-blind bureaucrat, agent of a criminal state, so unconcerned for the world – or alienated from it – that he could help lay waste to it.” (YOUNG-BRUHEL: 5)

After carefully watching Eichmann’s trial in Jerusalem, Arendt was surprised to discover not a devilish man, but rather a dumb fellow, blindly obedient to his superiors in the hierarchy. Eichmann’s triking characteristic was, in Arendt’s eyes, his “thoughtlessness”, his stupidity.

“Thoughtlessness – the headless recklessness or hopeless confusion or complacent repetition of ‘truths’ which have become trivial and empty – seems to me among the outstanding characteristics of our time.” (ARENDT, The Human Condition, Prologue).

 Dr. Martin Luther King reminds us, when he says “everything that the Nazis did was legal”, that Justice (as a value, as a virtue) is not necessarily the same as the Law. There are plenty of unjust laws – based on racist discrimination or ethnical cleansing, for example. Eichmann, inside Nazi society, was a lawful agent. In a land were genocide is not outlawed, a mass killer is also a law-abiding citizen. If we are really to understand how did the terribles tragedies of 20th century’s happened, includin the “World Wars”, with its Holocausts and Atom Bombs, we need to understand how much evil can arise from blind obedience, from lack of thought and atrophy of judgement. Hannah Arendt provides us a path to follow if we wish to understand how could this horrors happen. Arendt enlightens us by providing a way to understand our tragedies in which there’s no explanation of evil as a pact-with-the-devil or the result of innate-bad-genes. Stupidity can become criminal:

“After listening to Eichmann at his trial and reading the pretrial interviews with him, she concluded that he had no criminal motives but only motives – not criminal in themselves – related to his own advancement in the Nazi hierarchy. (…) He was a man who, conforming to the prevailing norms and his Führer’s will, failed altogether to grasp the meaning of what he was doing. He was not diabolical, he was thoughtless. The word “thoughtlessness” is used by Arendt for a mental condition reflecting remoteness from reality, inability to grasp a reality that stares you in the face – a failure of imagination and judgment. (…) No deep-rooted or radical evil was necessary to make the trains to Auschwitz run on time.” (YOUNG-BRUEL, p. 108)

It reminds me of that famous experiment by Stanley Milgram, in which he tested how far can people go in the art of inflicting pain unto others. Milgram came up with a test to check how people would act when asked to approve the use of electrical shocks of increasing voltage; he wanted to see how wicked could a human being act just because a certain authority ordered it. The 20th century teachs us that hierarchy (and blind obedience to it) has much more relation with tragedy of epic proportions than the principles and actions of anarchists.

 Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem, it seems to me, is also a reflection upon the evils that follow from conformity to unquestioned authority. The Origins of Totalitarism, I believe, can and should be read and understood with the aid of classics of social psychology such as Erich Fromm’ Fear of Freedom or Wilhelm Reich’s The Mass Psychology of Fascism. The shocking fact about the III Reich is that those crimes were commited by law-abbiding citizens, who were only following the orders and honouring the Führer’s will. One of the psychological factors that made it possible for so many Germans to participate in the mega-machine of mass-murder was the notion that Hitler assumed all responsability, and those who worked in the concentration camps, those who operated the trains to the death fields, those who released the poisonous and deadly Zyklon B, could all excuse themselves by saying: “I was merely following orders.” Which reminds me of Howard Zinn’s often quoted statement, somewhat inspired by Thoreau, that civil obedience is in fact a danger far greater than civil disobedience:

Howard Zin (1922-2010)

Howard Zin (1922-2010)

Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is the numbers of people all over the world who have obeyed the dictates of the leaders of their government and have gone to war, and millions have been killed because of this obedience. And our problem is that scene in All Quiet on the Western Front where the schoolboys march off dutifully in a line to war. Our problem is that people are obedient all over the world, in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves, and all the while the grand thieves are running the country. That’s our problem. We recognize this for Nazi Germany. We know that the problem there was obedience, that the people obeyed Hitler. People obeyed; that was wrong. They should have challenged, and they should have resisted; and if we were only there, we would have showed them. Even in Stalin’s Russia we can understand that; people are obedient, all these herdlike people… (ZINN, Howard. Here.)

 When Hannah Arendt writes about crimes against humanity, and relates them to an evil arising from thoughtlessness and lack of judgement, she seems to be praising the individual’s potential for autonomy. Blind obedience to leaders or to established laws, unthinking conformity to the status quo, can lead to disaster. According to Young-Bruehl, who also wrote one of the most comprehensive biographies about Hannah Arendt, “she had always written out of solidarity with the victims of such crimes, with the conviction that telling their story for the sake of the future was her life task.” (YOUNG-BRUEHL, op cit., p. 209). This, also, we can learn from Arendt: solidarity with those who are, nowadays, the victims of crimes against humanity – for example, the detainees in Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo Bay, or the pakistanis killed by drone attacks. The U.S.A.’s War on Terror, even tough it justifies itself as a crusade of Freedom against Terror, utilizes “totalitarian methods”, argues Young-Bruehl, and such methods can be traced back to the Cold War era:

One of the most threatening ways that adopting totalitarian methods to fight totalitarianism helped shape the current world order  was in the practise adopted by U.S. governments during the Cold War period of sponsoring Islamic fundamentalists as agents of opposition to Soviet communism. This began on a small scale during Eisenhower’s presidency with support for the Muslim Brotherhood led by the Egyptian Hassan al-Banna… In Washington it was originally hoped that the political Islamists would help prevent the Communist ideology from infecting Arab states, but the policy of support became progressively aimed more at promoting Arab supranationalism and funding middle-ground wars. U.S. support of Arab supranationalism (with its own ideology, Wahhabism) focused on the reactionary Saudi monarchy, which was encouraged to create a network of right-wing Arab states using the Muslim Brotherhood as its agent. The Saudis also built on the Brotherhood’s violent opposition to Egypt under Nasser, who was considered a revolutionary nationalist in Washington and posed a direct challenge to U.S. and British oil interests in the Gulf… The CIA, in the most portentous instance, supported the Afghan fighters  in their resistance to the Soviet Union’s imperialist invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s. At that time, the CIA helped Osama bin Laden build a network of ‘Afghan Arabs’, the forerunner of Al-Qaeda…(YOUNG-BRUEHL, p. 57)

 It gets me wondering what Hannah Arendt would have to teach us about the 21st century. Abu Ghraibs and Guantanamo Bays would very likely seem to her as dangerously similar to nazi concentration camps or soviet gulags, places where people lose their basic human rights and become victims of dehumanizing humiliation and torture. What about State Surveillance, a current reality denounced by whistleblower Edward Snowden? Isn’t it a dangerously totalitarian method, George Orwell’s Big Brother finally realized in mass scale? I’m quite sure Orwell never meant 1984 to be an Instructions Manual! And what to say about a country whose nuclear arsenal is huge, and who goes to war against Iraq claiming that Saddam Hussein’s regime had weapons of mass destruction in his hands? As if the United States of Atom Bombs hadn’t weapons of mass destruction also! And what to say about the thousands of americans who, misled by demagogy, blinded by patriotism, bound to their “duty”, marched straight to war, dropped bombs, launched drones? Now, of course, the damage is done and the thousands of dead bodies pile up as yet another reminder of human folly and of the dangers of thoughtlessness and blind obedience.

In her thought-provoking article A Lying World Order – Political Deception and the Threat of Totalitarianism, Peg Birmingham investigates if totalitarianism is a threat today.  She answers with conviction – “yes it is!” – and argues with Hannah Arendt that the danger is co-related to the problem of political lies, of ideological deception. Historians can’t cease to be amazed by the re-occurence, in Human History, of mass credulity in ideologies and leaders. Humanity may seem ludicrous and ridiculous when we take a look back and discover the scale in which lies were massively believed in, with the outcome of radical evil of colossal proportions. How not to be flabbergasted with the fact that millions could believe Hitler’s racist lies about ethnical cleansing and the Jewish Plague, or believe W. Bush’s pious lies about Saddam’s nuclear bombs? It’s a scenario to make us bemoan the fate of this planet in a time, to remember Shakespeare’s King Lear, “when madmen lead the blind.” (SHAKESPEARE, King Lear, Act 4, Scene 1)

In her essay “The Seeds of a Fascist International” (1945), Hannah Arendt wrote: “It was always a too little noted hallmark of fascist propaganda that it was not satisfied with lying, but deliberately proposed to transform lies into reality. For such a fabrication of lying reality, no one was prepared. The essential characteristic of fascist propaganda was never its lies, for this is something more or less common to propaganda everywhere, and of every time. The essential thing was that they exploited the age-old occidental prejudice which confuses reality with truth, and made that true which until then could only be stated as a lie.” (ARENDT, 146-147) For example: if Mr. X makes a statement such as “my aunt is dead”, but then Mrs. Y contradicts him with “No, this ain’t true, I saw your aunt just a moment ago at the market”, all Mr. X needs to do to mutate his statement from a lie to a truth is “to go home and murder his aunt” (BIRMINGHAM, P. 74.) 

Winter Soldier

In Winter Soldier (1972), an excellent documentary about the Vietnam War, built upon statements from the soldiers who were there and witnessed it all, a man who fought with the U.S. Army gives us an example of the Political Lie in action: when civilians were killed (military leaders, then and now, call this “collateral damage”), the U.S. Army ordered that those people  were to be labeled as gooks, written down in the “official reports” as if they were vietcongs. Kill first, then label the murdered person a devil, a filthy gook, an unworthy-to-live commie. That’s the strategy. Every dead Vietnamese, even tough he might have been a pacifist, is suddenly turned into a dangerous and murderous communist terrorist.

We still live in such a world where the Terrorist Menace is constantly evoked, and in its name are justified colossal measures of war, emprisonment and mass surveillance. If there’s a threat of totalitarianism in the world today, it certainly lies in the way governments are dealing with the so-called Terrorist Menace. The established powers, the status quo, the ruling elites, label as terrorists those who oppose their crushing powers. In India, the “terrorists” are the maoists who oppose Hindu nationalism and Free Trade Capitalism (check Arundhati Roy’s brilliant report Walking With The Comrades); in Mexico, the “terrorists” are the Zapatistas of Chiapas’s jungles who defend the rights of indigenous people against the pillage of big business; in the U.S., the “terrorists” are Islamic jihadists threatening to re-enact September 11th; in Brazil, “terrorists” are those citizens who take to the streets to protest against banks and corporate power, and refusing pacifism in their Black Bloc techniques or Anarchistic tendencies. And so on and so on… The “terrorist danger” is what justifies massive investments in police, it’s what governenmets use to justify the use of repression and mass incarceration. Welcome to “Democracy”, the best one that money can buy.

The danger of totalitarianism lies entangled with the threat of mass-belief in political lies:

The problem of ideology is, for Hannah Arendt, the problem of political deception. Ideology is the mutation that establishes the lying world order, by replacing reality with an ironclad fiction. In other words, ideology is the ‘most devilish version of the lie'”; these are Hannah Arendt’s words, and we should hear her claim that the banality of evil is, at its very heart, ideology. With both its hellish fantasies and its clichés, the ‘banality of evil’ is characterized by a strident logicality – a logic through which the whole of reality is thoroughly and systematically organized, according to  a fiction with a view to total domination.” (BIRMINGHAM, P. 77.) 

I wonder if our totalitarian threat may reside, today, also in the Market, or in what many specialists call “The Economy”. Aren’t we endangered by the “Free Trade” totalitarian ideology? In which every means are acceptable in order to enforce the holy end of “Free Markets”? Including the drone-attacks against Pakistan, the war of aggression against Iraq, the pious crusade of genocidal proportions against Afeghanistan? Who is naive enough to believe it was all made for the sake of Freedom and Democracy, when it actually resulted in a massive pile of corpses?  Not to mention, in previous decades, how Free Trade capitalism, Yankee-style, forced its way all around the globe with the aid of the military dictartorships and coup d’états imposed by U.S. interest in South and Central America. We, Latin Americans, can never forget what happened in Chile in September 11th, 1973. Not to mention the military interventions in Asia (Vietnam, Cambodia, etc.), justified as Anti-Communist measures.

The political lie, the fascist twist of propaganda to be discerned here, I would argue, lies in the preposterous idea that “Free Trade = Freedom and Justice”. That’s a lying and deceiving equation: if we take a closer look at the ideology of Free Trade, of the theories so dominant in today’s capitalism and that call themselves “liberal” and “neo-liberal”,  we’ll discover that they have a tendency to increase mass incarceration and police repression, for example. The U.S. currently has 25% of all the world’s prisoners. When prison become a business, that can be run for profit (with the aid, of course, of strick laws of prohibition against illicit drugs), neoliberal capitalism shows its true face: that of nasty greediness, mounting inequality, resulting in a dystopic society in which millions and millions of its citizens are behind bars, while an elite hides away, locked inside comfortable bunkers, with obscene accumulations of capital in protected by Hi-Tech Security.

To enforce capitalism, the preachers of Free Trade, with their billions – which could be invested to end global hunger or treat curable diseases in all continents! – uy themselves an immense apparatus of military repression and aggression. Remember Seattle, 1999. Remember Québec City, 2001. Remember Genoa, 2008. Remember Toronto, 2010. Remember Brazil’s World Cup, in 2014, in which neo-liberal interests where defended with military police and national Army, throughout the streets, programmed to silence and crush all dissidence and protest to FIFA’s money-making machine…

As Arundhati Roy reminds us, everytime that the world’s Capitalist Elites try to join for their summits, their G8 meetings, their WTOs and Free Trade congresses, they are only able to do it spending millions in what they call Security – another political lie, ideological fiction, that masks the fact that “Security” is based on agression, repression, and incarceration of political prisoners (it’s been done for centuries: put in prison your oponents, then justify yourself calling them “terrorists”). The so-called Liberal Democracy in the U.S. spends so much in War and Prisons that it shows to the world its true face, behind the masks and the fake twinklings of ideological propaganda. Look at Detroit, once America’s pearl, one of the wealthiest metropolis on Earth, now reduced to a wasteland; Detroit, who could be photographed nowadays in order to illustrate Mike Davis’s book Planet of Slums. Remember New Orleans when Katrina hit: the same country who spends billions with its Wars and who lets profits run wild with “free trades” such as that of Guns and Ammunitions, leaves its own citizens in abandonment while they face one of the worst climate disasters of American History…

Why, if a mandatory evacuation was issued, ordering that everybody should leave New Orleans before Katrina hit, the U.S. government didn’t provide the means for this evacuation to happen? Money, you always tell me, is not a problem in the U.S., The Land of Profit. When the poorest of people in New Orleans, who couldn’t afford a bus or plane ticket to a safe area, who couldn’t afford renting a hotel room in a Hurricane-free town, the least you’d expect from a sensible government is help. Perhaps they were too busy doing war in the Middle East, or spying on people’s private lifes in search of potencial terrorists, or torturing political prisoners in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, to ready be able to listen as New Orleans’ cried for help while drowning out in one of the crudest of the ecological turmoil’s of our “anthropocene” era. Rapper Kanye West, witnessing this, couldn’t do nothing but to speak on National TV: “George W. Bush doesn’t care for black people”. Neither he does care for Muslims. While the U.S. Army was bombing and torturing Muslims, in New Orleans it left off, unatended to, abandoned to their luck, those American Citizens who were still in town when the Hurricane came. As Naomi Klein shows in her The Shock Doctrine, after the disaster the authorities in charge of defending Free Trade capitalism took an interest in New Orleans: they saw that in Disaster there was Opportunity. What used to be Public service, in New Orleans, could now be refashioned to attend Private Interests. This is another reason why Arendt still matters: because Free Trade ideology wants to erase the notions of Public Space and of Common Good, in order to enforce its society of private interests and individualistic consumerism, protected by military force and crowded prisons.

In 1972, in a conference at the Toronto Society for the Study of Social and Political Thought (York University), Hannah Arendt said (and it remains for me inspirational stuff): “If we really believe – and I think we share this belief – that plurality rules the earth, then I think one has got to modify this notion of the unity of theory and practice to such an extent that it will be unrecognizable for those who tried their hand at it before. I really believe that you can only act in concert and I really believe that you can only think by yourself.” (pg. 305) Arendt matters because she can teach us a lot about thinking for ourselves (instead of accepting fixed truths that rain from above in the hierarchy…) and because she can teach us how to act in concert to criticize, dismantle and fight the threats of totalitarism today. 

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REFERENCES

ARENDT, Hannah. “The Seeds of a Fascist International”. Pgs. 146-147.

———————-. The Human Condition, Prologue.

BIRMINGHAM, Peg. “A Lying World Order – Political Deception and the Threat of Totalitarianism”In: Thinking in Dark Times, New York: Fordham University press.

YOUNG-BRUEHL, Elisabeth . Why Arendt Matters. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2006.

SHAKESPEARE, William. King Lear. Act 4, Scene 1.

ZINN, Howard. Zinn Reader. Seven Stories Press, 1970.

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SOME VIDEOS:

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Hannah Arendt (1906-1975)