"It's as dismal a political landscape as I can remember in thirty years. Yet some discover a silver lining. They find it in the 9/11 conspiracy cult, which I have discussed here in recent weeks. A politically sophisticated leftist in Washington, DC, wrote to thank me for my attack, but added, "To me the most interesting thing (in the US) is how many people are willing to believe that Bush either masterminded it [the 9/11 attacks] or knew in advance and let it happen. If that number or anything close to that is true, that's a huge base of people that are more than deeply cynical about their elected officials. That would be the real news story that the media is missing, and it's a big one."
"I'm not sure I see the silver lining about cynicism re government," I answered. "People used to say the same thing about the JFK conspiracy buffs and disbelief in the Warren Commission. Actually, it seems to demobilize people from useful political activity. I think the nuttishness stems from despair and political infantilism. There's no worthwhile energy to transfer from such kookery. It's like saying some lunatic shouting to himself on a street corner has the capacity to be a great orator. The nearest thing to it all is the Flying Saucer craze. 'Open up the USAF archives!' It's a Jungian thing."
Jungian, schmungian; Alexander Cockburn is an amateurish amateur psychoanalyst. But does he have the capacity to be a great orator? Not if this feebly demagogic performance is anything to go by. Within a single peevish paragraph (which pleased him so much that he chose to reprint it), Cockburn complains of "nuttishness ... despair ... political infantilism ... [and] kookery" while haughtily disdaining to construct a rational argument or even address any relevant facts. What's roused his ire is the plebs' refusal to toe the party line on 9/11. It was imperial blowback, you see -- the guys at The Nation had that all worked out for us by the afternoon of the very same day. Whodunnit? Mad Muslims of course, all on their own; and no goddam wonder, for didn't we make them mad? Case closed.
On all this, Alexander Cockburn has not a word to say. Instead, he prefers to lambast the perceived defects of a few carefully selected "cynics" who have the temerity to distrust their government. We could cite Brecht here, and his modest proposal that the government should dissolve the people and elect another. But, under the circumstances, let's stick with Jung:
"All neurosis is a substitute for legitimate suffering."
The Cockburnite left's response to 9/11 was a paroxysm of premature smugness: "Imperial blowback! We told you so!" Five years on, we are all still paying for the neurotic indifference to reality manifested in that evidence-proof response. In the face of an oxymoronic War on Terror now rechristened "The Long War" (or "World War III", as the President would have it), something better and more rational is required. Something more effectively anti-war. Something more persuasive than opportunistic pseudo-omniscience. Something more sophisticated than rash acceptance and stubborn de facto support of a notoriously mendacious right-wing government's most indispensable myth. Something lefter than narcissistic laments about the gaucheries of carefully-selected proles.
It is in fact available. As Cockburn's anonymous "sophisticated leftist" points out, "a huge base of people ... are more than deeply cynical about their elected officials." That "cynicism" is entirely justified - and incomparably more rational than Alexander Cockburn's real or simulated credulity. That "huge base of people" is also the natural constituency of the left. So Cockburn would do well to listen to those people, to learn from them, to support them in their efforts to hold their warmongering leaders to account, and to help them avoid red herrings like the Pentagon missile yarn.
If that means apologising for his shameful attitude hitherto, then it might constitute a blow to his vanity. While Alexander Cockburn ponders whether such a blow would be endurable as legitimate suffering, the rest of us may wonder whether the left, and the world, can afford to ignore the deeply counterproductive effects of such vanity for very much longer.
[ Further links to be added later.]