Tag Archives: bearings

Iktomi, Deerslayer and Clouds


We pause to note the passing of the Lakota warrior Russell Means on October 22, a journey he faced bravely:

“I’m not going to argue with the Great Mystery. Lakota belief is that death is a change of worlds. And I believe like my dad believed. (…) When it’s my time to go, it’s my time to go. I’ve told people after I die, I’m coming back as lightning. When it zaps the White House, they’ll know it’s me.”

In researching recent interviews with Means, we discovered a remarkable video of a conversation with Amir Payam of BBC Persian, during which Means looks deep into the “integral soul” of his imperial wardens. Below the link, we offer our own slightly abbreviated transcript:


Enter Iktomi, the spider:

Pine Ridge Reservation opens Chris Hedge’s lucid analysis of “sacrifice zones” in his book, Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt. He summarizes his journey through the assorted devastated zones in an interview with Bill Moyers:

One of the epigraphs for Hedges’ chapter on Pine Ridge is taken from D.H. Lawrence:

We were curious about the extended context for the quote, so we tracked down Chapter 5, a discussion of Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking novels, with editorial emphasis added in bold to the last line:


The products of disintegration are everywhere; imbeciles and braggarts rule the day, under the influence of Iktomi. Now the integral soul – Deerslayer – becomes restless, hungry to make things clean again and restore order. Let us hope that on the day when yet another “new move” shakes the world, there will be abundant sacred lightning in the sky to put an end to it.

In his last video, or at least the last that we have been able to find online, Means references a book on Lakota philosophy, co-authored with philosopher and Master Mariner Bayard Johnson:


Concubines and Predators

In 1996, the Institute for National Strategic Studies at the National Defense University published its now famous manifesto, Shock & Awe: Achieving Rapid Dominance. Though the catch-phrases are well known, the complete text rewards a careful reading. The heart of the doctrine beats most vividly in the second chapter, where the authors spell out the fundamental objective:


The objective, then, is to create a comatose and glazed “expression” on the face of the enemy, an expression that provides the most essential indicator that the enemy’s will to resist has collapsed. The objective is achieved through strategies and tactics that incarnate the “core characteristics” of Rapid Dominance: knowledge, rapidity, brilliance and control. To flesh out the distinct strategic modalities through which this will-wound might be delivered, the authors then proceed to explore a range of historical examples such as Hiroshima and Nagasaki; the German Blitzkrieg; invincible Roman Legions; Decay and Default; and – most interestingly for our purposes – the Sun Tzu example:
While the concubines were certainly part of the King’s regime of power, performing highly valued services in the service of their lord and master, they were not part of the war machine. The association of concubines was a domestic resource, a civilian population retaining a level of cultural and behavioral autonomy outside the military chain of command. When told to march, the concubines merely laughed.

For Sun Tzu to defend his reputation as master strategist in the Art of War, he needed to break their autonomous will of the concubines and obliterate their laughter. To do so, he selected the most important “heads”- the ones who were thinking most intensely for themselves and their community – and then cut them off, delivering enough of a shock to the collective nervous system such that core impulses and identities might be reshaped, thereupon producing a new social body living by new codes. No longer paced by the rubato rhythms of concubinage, the ladies would subsequently conform to the tight martial locksteps of a drill team.

Ultimately, it is not the individual concubines who are the target of the strategy; what must be destroyed is their zone of autonomy, their collective identity, and their willful codes of conduct. To break autonomy and collapse the collective will without enraging a civilian populace, leading to troublesome resistance, the Sun Tzu strategy requires an unusually high degree of “psychological precision”; War College professor Steven Metz elaborates on the role of psychological analysis in the production of fear and anxiety in his 2001 article on strategic asymmetry:

Though Predator drones are intended to deliver the sort of psychological impact required by the Sun Tzu strategy, a remote-controlled drone does not have quite the same knowledge, rapidity, brilliance and control as a sword delivered by proximate animal energy via slashes from a single warrior. Further, when Sun Tzu orders the fatal blow, he has the implicit consent of Ho Lu, King of Wu, who has challenged him to demonstrate his philosophical mettle. Ho Lu may lose a valued domestic comfort, but he will gain fresh strategic insight into the Art of War.

What happens when such local consent is not present, neither implicitly nor explicitly, above all when slaughter is indiscriminate? In 2011, a Strategic Studies Institute Report co-authored by the same Steven Metz identifies this issue as a significant impediment to any widespread application of Sun Tzu decapitation:


Let us now turn our attention to the lengthy series of Predator drone attacks in Waziristan. As defined within the doctrine of Shock & Awe, what is the strategic objective of these attacks? The announced public enemy convenes the usual demons: Taliban and Al Qaeda militants. Within the terms of the Sun Tzu example, however, we might imagine that the deeper objective resides in the destruction of the willful autonomy of the region, an autonomy which analysts believe to be supportive of an irritating culture of resistance to the policies of the United States.

Possibly, the nonchalant reaction to ongoing civilian deaths in the delivery of lethal drone attacks belies the fact that such deaths are fully anticipated within the strategic plan to collapse the stubborn will of regional tribes, who allegedly provide the social context for individual “terrorists”. Otherwise, where are the congressional enquiries into Predator atrocities. Where are the international outcries, the calls for an independent War Crimes tribunal? Or is it that Wazir tribal populations do not even rank as human beings; they are merely things that move, as in the sentence “kill everything that moves”, a sentence with a long history inside The Shining City.

Too much precision would lead to a deficit of fear and anxiety, and the psychology of the strategy requires that fear and anxiety reach a sufficient level to collapse the will and create the climactic desiderata of Shock & Awe, the glazed and comatose face of absolute subjection. Then the world would watch in wonder as the assembled tribes of Waziristan staged drill team competitions, with each team outdoing the next in replicating the twisted rhythms of American imperial fantasies.


A few weeks ago, when questioned about the murder of innocent women, children and other civilians as a consequence of Predator drone attacks, President Obama said: We are very careful in terms of how it’s been applied. It is important for everybody to understand that this thing is kept on a very tight leash. What is the meaning of “thing” in this strange and heartless sentence? Perhaps the President’s sentence unleashes more than he intended, in disclosing the deeper psychological and strategic objectives in Waziristan, as in:


Meanwhile, the Pakistan government becomes increasingly impatient with drone incursions into their sovereign airspace, and with the resulting murder of their citizens. In response to American officials’ perverse insistence that these attacks have produced no civilian casualties whatsoever (maybe because the Wazirs do not count as civilians, but as “things”?) Pakistan’s High Commissioner to Britain Wajid Shamsul Hasan said:

We know the damage — destroyed schools, communities, hospitals. They are civilians — children, women, families. Our losses are enormous. Generally people think that deaths caused by drone attacks should be treated as war crimes. There is so much animosity that perhaps the Americans are the most hated people in the minds of the people in Pakistan. 

When this hatred finds full expression, the psychologists of airborne decapitation will be left scratching their heads.

No Conscience

The Hungry Raven



New and Better Ways


On March 27, while in a mental state of deepening confusion and distress, Christie was arrested for misdemeanor trespassing at the hotel where he had formerly lodged as a guest. Law enforcement officers then subjected the frightened and disoriented man, urgently in need of medical treatment and care, to a series of extreme “corrective” measures: repeatedly pepper spraying his face and body for a total of ten times; stripping him completely naked; strapping him to a restraining chair; and finally choking him with a “spit collar”. Christie’s pleas for medical attention were ignored; then he was rendered speechless by the spit collar.

Homeland Torture

On March 29, Mr. Christie suffered acute respiratory distress and was taken to the hospital, where he suffered numerous heart attacks and was declared dead on March 31. The deputy medical examiner ruled the death a homicide as a direct result of sustained exposure to pepper spray, residue from which still coated his entire body at the time of his autopsy. Yet Assistant State Attorney Dean R. Plattner declined to file charges, claiming lack of sufficient evidence, despite numerous eyewitnesses; Plattner has since died of an apparent heart attack.

What we’ve been hearing about

The Lee County Jail contracted with Prison Health Services (PHS) for evaluative screenings, and for training officers in standards of appropriate response and in the use of “mental health technology” such as the restraining chair. PHS now appears to have mutated into Corizon, a corporation that still lists the Lee County Jail as a customer for their specialized “jail module”. The Corizon corporate motto: As pioneers in correctional healthcare, we continue to discover new and better ways to serve our partners.

We understand your unique needs

Deeply concerned about the fate of her husband, Joyce Christie traveled to Fort Myers on March 29 and immediately proceeded to the police station, where officers refused even to confirm whether he was in custody. While she was trying to convince the police of the seriousness of her husband’s medical conditions, he was elsewhere in the building being tortured by deputies. Later, she received an anonymous phone call that he had been taken to the hospital. Officers refused to permit her to see him until she posted bond; by the time she did so, Nick Christie was close to death.

Attorneys for Mrs. Christie have filed a civil lawsuit in federal court for medical malpractice, wrongful death, civil rights violations, negligence, pain and suffering. She says: Nick had a life. He was somebody, my husband, a father to my son. He’s somebody I miss very much. It shouldn’t have happened. He should be here. Three weeks later, I get his ashes back from Florida in a mail truck. 

Export Model

The Game of Death


A colleague in the realm of Desperado Philosophy has brought to our attention a French television documentary made in 2010 titled Le Jeu de la Mort by Christophe Nick, who has since become a prominent critic of reality TV and its many brands of casual cruelty.

As a basic dramatic structure, Nick adapted Stanley Milgram’s well known obedience experiments in which “teachers” would deliver shocks to “learners”, while prompted and at times badgered by a scientist-in-situ. Interestingly, Nick claims his original inspiration for the experiment came not from his reading of Milgram but from a French version of The Weakest Link, wherein contestants are relentlessly bullied and belittled by the host, while also scratching and clawing at fellow contestants to avoid being culled from the feeble brain trust.

With the simple idea télé, c’est le pouvoir as his rather banal point de départ, Nick then sets out to discover whether that power is sufficient to cajole or compel ordinary citizens to become willing or at least obedient torturers, in public and on national television, and without any monetary incentive. With blinking lights, sexy helpers, a perky/pushy host, roaming cameras, and an audience shouting encouragement, the scenario has an air of inevitability about it, and indeed Nick solicits the proof that he set out to find: 64 out of 80 contestants deliver the full Monty throttle of 460 volts, at which point the victim – quite convincingly performed by an actor – no longer screams but slumps in the chair, ominously silent.

Voiceovers and expert commentary leave little to the imagination, as the basic structure of scripted subservience plays itself out over and over accompanied by a music pastiche that gropes for all the expected emotive buttons.

In post-mortem remarks, Nick said: They are not equipped to disobey. They don’t want to do it, they try to convince the authority figure that they should stop, but they don’t manage to. Indeed there was one contestant whose Jewish grandparents had been tortured by the Nazis. She had wondered all her life how the Nazis could perform such atrocities, yet now she has inflicted the same sort of pain upon a perfect stranger: I was worried about the contestant, but at the same time, I was afraid to spoil the program.


In the process of informing contestants that they had been lured into his scenario via the false premiss of a game show audition, and securing their permission for the film, Nick assured one and all that they had performed “normally”, and – sounding just like Philip Zimbardo – that the context of the situation was responsible for their actions; within his simulacrum of torture, they were not guilty, two thumbs up. Nick reports that most of them are thrilled to have participated in an experiment that could be useful for something, and some of them are ready to do it all over again. 

As we contemplate this dreary episode, in which both the subject and the object of critique become unified in the expression of some far deeper truth that is, however, never allowed to push through the totalizing aesthetic of the film itself, we recall the words of Gitta Sereny, who spent seventy hours with Franz Stangl, Kommandant of Sobibor and Treblinka; Gitta Sereny, who wrote in her beautiful and moving epilogue: This [essential core], however, cannot come into being or exist in a vacuum. It is deeply vulnerable and profoundly dependent on a climate of life; on freedom in the deepest sense; not license, but freedom to grow: within family, within community, within nations, and within human society as a whole.


The Delta Depository


Somewhere in the darkest neighborhood of the Shining City there is a place called the Delta Depository, a processing facility for a special category of package: citizens recently detained as part of the Permanent Emergency. Behavioral algorithms, motion analysis and communication filters have ascertained with mathematical certainty that these citizens will at some point in the future conspire to attack the Shining City. As a preemptive measure, these citizens are thus registered as packages, and sent to the Delta Depository.

The Delta Depository is not a place for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It is a place designed to rip open the package, so as to reveal the criminal and violent actions latent within the behavioral matrix, as measured and confirmed by the algorithms. The Delta Depository always succeeds in this endeavor, always succeeds in extracting the evidence necessary to construct the legal basis, after which the registry of the package will become as permanent as the Emergency that required the design and construction of the Depository.

Packages registered inside the Delta Depository will never return to general circulation within the Shining City. They have joined the ranks of the Disappeared. Permanent Emergencies always require a parallel category of the Disappeared, a category designed both to terrify and to justify, that is, to extract by torture the legal framework required for the preemptive rendering of citizens as packages, as dead letters, meaning they will never be heard from again; they cannot be delivered nor returned.

Now consider the case of a young man with initials A. M., or Alpha Mike. Alpha Mike is a good apple, a patriot, a man who loves the Shining City. Consequently, and with every good apple intent, he enrolls in the military to defend his country during the dangerous time of the Permanent Emergency. He expects deployment to Persia, yet during basic training his superiors tell him that he is too intelligent for battle duty. They tell him that he is uniquely qualified for special service in a special place called the Delta Depository.

Alpha Mike has daily contact with the registered packages. At first, he finds them confusing. They speak intact variations of his own language. They look like his neighbors, like his friends. He cannot see their dark algorithms; he cannot see the criminal violence against the state predicted as their future with absolute mathematical certainty. All he sees are young men and women, normal citizens like himself. Might there have been some mistake?

From the corrective training he receives daily, he learns that such doubts are a breeding ground for a potentially lethal illusion. He is reminded that the packages are dangerous treasonous murderers, time bombs ticking off until their latent future becomes their violent present. He must not be fooled by superficial evidence of a common humanity; the criminality of the packages has been mathematically certified. The game being played is a deep one, unfathomably deep, even for someone too intelligent for battle duty.


So the packages must never be permitted to sleep; the packages must eat cat food; the packages must use toilet paper that has been soaked with pepper spray; and the packages must be subjected to relentless humiliation around the clock, because all these treatments will in due course combine to open the packages once and for all, to reveal their secret truth, the dark truth that will fully justify the treatments and thus fully exonerate Alpha Mike. Inside the Delta Depository, this is called the Circle of Ultimate Justice, a Circle that must be turned around the clock, never missing a tick, or else Ultimate Justice will never arrive.

Good apple Alpha Mike believes in the Circle of Ultimate Justice, and so he does terrible things to the packages. Bad apple things. Rotten apple things. As his suspicion that the packages are no more dangerous than his neighbors fruits like a fungus inside his chest, his actions become even more corrupt. The packages insist on pretending to be normal humans, and this ticks off Alpha Mike. Soon he is feared by the packages as the most merciless of their torturers. Even the other guards fear Alpha Mike; they fear him, and then they emulate him, creating a second Circle: the Circle of Infinite Pain.

No matter the extremity of his rotten apple actions, the fungus continues to fruit inside his chest, and the day soon comes when Alpha Mike begins to suffer crippling chest pains. Another day, he bleeds from his eyes. Another day, a large bump appears on his forehead which, when lanced, releases a black beetle. The attending physician at the Delta Depository captures the beetle and places it in a jar for further study. Alpha Mike is sent away on leave, to a beach without beetles. After three weeks, he is redeployed to Persia and never heard from again. He thereby joins the swollen ranks of the Disappeared.



After a nasty brush with death while hunting large fellow mammals, still fairly early in the unfolding drama of the Pequod, Ishmael experiences a moment of profound philosophical immersion: There are certain queer times and occasions in this strange mixed affair we call life when a man takes this whole universe for a vast practical joke, though the wit thereof he but dimly discerns, and more than suspects that the joke is at nobody’s expense but his own. 

Most acute at times of trial and tribulation, such a wayward mood gives birth to a free and easy sort of genial, desperado philosophy. In this dissonant coupling of the words genial and desperado by way of a comma, Melville captures an essential element, possibly the most essential element, of a distinctly American philosophy that brings complex undertones to the simple Pilgrim hymns of our Shining City On A Hill, undertones of the sort that might produce a death metal soundtrack for the rock & rolling Humvees of Operation Enduring Freedom.

In an act of sober pragmatism, Ishmael draws up his Last Will and Testament, inviting Queequeg to serve as his lawyer, executor and legatee. Task accomplished, he then looks around himself with deep contentment, like a quiet ghost with a clean conscience. His earthly affairs in order, he is now fully prepared for a cool, collected dive at death and destruction, and the devil fetch the hindmost.

Internally complex and contingent, desperado philosophy can resolve itself in a wide variety of ways, depending on the character of individuals and the circumstances that confront them. Ishmael, for one, comes to embody the brave existential stoicism of a skeptical believer, someone with doubts of all things earthly, and intuitions of some things heavenly, as expressed in those many passages where Melville begins to sound like Kierkegaard. Yet inside a different bag of bones, driven by a different ethos and influenced by different historical conditions, desperado philosophy may well express itself as the most perverse sort of nihilism, a murderous cynicism that uses the senseless absurdity of the cosmos as a cover.

That more nihilistic side is certainly alive and well in America as we enter the year 2012. Consider for example what for my eyes offers the emblematic image for the year 2011 in America. A pear shaped man named John Pike, employed as a campus police officer and dressed in riot gear, casually sprays a row of young men and women who are dressed like college students prepared for a rainy day. Indeed, they are students at UC Davis, and they are sitting across a campus pathway in peaceful protest, as part of a blooming Occupy movement.

Mr. Pike, honored in the past for brave and selfless acts, holds the red can in a way that resembles a suburban homeowner coating his plants with fungicide. Yet this particular can contains Oleoresin Capsicum, commonly known as pepper spray. Pepper spray is classified as a lachrymatory agent, that is, it will make you cry, sometimes to the point of blindness. The pear shaped Mr. Pike believes in the righteousness of his brutality. Pathways must be kept clear, and clean, as clear and clean as the conscience of a quiet ghost.

Let us now summon another emblematic character into the scene; Jon Corzine, former governor of New Jersey, former US senator; and a former CEO at Goldman Sachs. Yet in October 2011, Mr. Corzine found himself at the head of a relatively obscure financial chop shop named MF Global Holdings. The “MF” was an alphabetic memory trace for a former corporate incarnation called Man Financial. Among the global holdings, Mr. Corzine had purchased large slag heaps of toxic derivatives linked to bonds issued by insolvent European governments, such as Greece.

A veteran if somewhat rusty bond trader himself, Mr. Corzine understood that these derivative instruments might soon create a Mother Freaking whirlpool into which his Malignant Fantasy would disappear without a trace. His teams of young, eager traders, looking forward to their XXL Christmas bonuses, all saw the same patterns on their screens, and they knew what Miserable Fate awaited them. But wait, thought Mr. Corzine – why not  simply pledge the money from our customer accounts, to cover our haunches from the invasive probes of margin clerks until the crisis is past, devil fetch the hindmost? If it all goes as pear shaped as Mr. Pike, no worries and no tears: these transactions are far too complex for mere lawyers to comprehend. Such thinking qualifies Mr. Corzine as an exemplary Man For Our Times.