Klee's 'Angelus Novus' from Stephane Hessel's 'Indignez Vous!'

On September 11th, 2002, the first anniversary of 9/11, the CBC aired a Peter Mansbridge interview with Prime Minister Jean Chrétien.  The comments were republished in Canada and around the world under such titles as “PM Says US Attitude Helped Fuel Sept. 11” (Toronto Globe and Mail, 9/11/02), and, “The Power to Humiliate” (Sidney Morning Herald, 9/17/02).

In the interview, when Mansbridge asked Chrétien: “By the end of the day [9/11], what were you thinking about in terms of how the world had changed?”, Chrétien replied:

“… it is a division in the world that is building up. And I knew that it was the inspiration of it.  For me, I think that the rest of the world a bit too selfish, and that there is a lot of resentment…. You know, the poor, relatively, get poorer all the time. And the rich are getting richer all the time. … You know, you cannot exercise your powers to the point of humiliation for the others.  And that is what the Western world, not only the Americans, the Western world has to realize, because they are human beings too, and there are long-term consequences if you don’t look hard at the reality in 10 or 20 or 30 years from now.”

Today, the remembrance of the event that changed the US and the world, the 9/11 terrorist attack, … is treated in isolation from any consideration of the power imbalances in the world that humiliate and incite tension.

Ten years later, there seems far less retrospection on power imbalances that act on the global social condition to incite violence.   Meanwhile, 2011 has been the year of the ‘Arab Spring’ with bloody rioting in many countries, leading to the fall of governments in Tunisia and Egypt and to continuing bloodshed in Syria and elsewhere.   In Europe, austerity measures associated with the threatened collapse of the global economy continue to provoke riots in Greece and across the European Economic Union.

There seems to be a general atmosphere of ‘denial’ on the part of the established authorities, that unrest is in any way connected with the leadership and its use of police and military to back up its top-down policies; i.e. there is denial that unrest is connected with ‘the power to humiliate’.  For example;

“Prime Minister David Cameron blamed the worst riots in Britain for decades on street gang members and opportunistic looters and denied government austerity measures or poverty caused the violence in London and other major English cities.”

Remembrance of tragedy is important.  Ensuring that the world is not going to have a recurring series of tragedies to remember is arguably even more important.

How we ensure against repeated tragedies involves two very different approaches; (a) the building of defensive systems that fend off any/all attacks against the established authorities, and (b) turning the heat down on ‘the power to humiliate’ so as to bring the global pot away from the boil, a measure that will require the reduction of the growing gaps between ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’.  That is, the use of police and military to restrain the people from taking their own ‘Robin Hood’ actions is proportional to the severity of the ‘have’ – ‘have-not’ gap.

Since the intensification of defensive systems, (a), intensifies the ‘power to humiliate’ if (b) is not addressed at the same time, it is a safe assumption that overbalanced focus on (a) will lead to more unrest and more tragedies.

As Douglas Roche commented in the stir that followed Jean Chrétien’s Mansbridge interview on the first anniversary of 9/11;

“This was a very perceptive comment [Jean Chrétien’s]. It was waiting to be said–needed to be said. It was something that many of us have been saying for a long time. Any anti-terrorism policy has to be seen within the totality of economic and social conditions that are the obvious spawning ground of this desperate activity.”

At that time, an Ipso-Reid poll found 84 percent of Canadians believed the United States was at least partly responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks.

In contrast to these views that hold ‘the power to humiliate’ partially responsible, there is the view that the attacks arose simply and solely from ‘evil intent’ in the interior of the perpetrators and that no connection need be made which ties these events ‘back to ourselves’ (we are all participants in conditioning the living space we all share inclusion in).  That is, ‘fundamentalists’ who believe in incarnate good and evil (evil that is hatched within the individual so that we need look no further than the perpetrator to understand the sourcing of his evil actions) such as George Bush countered Chrétien’s ‘power-to-humiliate’ remarks with ‘don’t make excuses for terrorists’.

And within Canada;

“Canadian Alliance leader Stephen Harper called on Chrétien to apologize to the U.S. and to the families of Canadians killed in the attacks. “(His) comments, particularly coming on the anniversary of Sept. 11, blaming the victim are shameful,” he charged. “What was behind the events of Sept. 11 are the forces of evil and hatred…. These must be resisted by free and democratic societies and their leaders.”

What we have here, that will influence how we balance attempts to avoid recurrence between (a) defensive systems to deal with rioters/terrorists, and (b) restoring balance so as to back off the use of ‘the power to humiliate’, … are two world views that are behind common splitting of public opinion into opposing camps.  How our views commonly split and polarize against each other relates to two different ways of understanding the ‘sourcing of behaviour’ which have been described using the baseball metaphor of ‘hitting’ and ‘fielding’.

To some, the ‘hitter’ is solely responsible for his hitting achievements (his batting average).   This corresponds to the ‘fundamentalist’ view (e.g. George Bush).

To others, the hitting achievement is inductively amplified or attenuated by the fielding (e.g. easy, fat pitches open the way to more frequent and bigger hits) so that one cannot assess the hitting achievement without at the same time assessing the fielding proficiency.  Hitting and fielding are two aspects of a single dynamic and it is impossible to exactly separate out the contributions of the hitter and the fielding.  This corresponds to the ‘liberal’ view (e.g. Jean Chrétien).

The hitting achievement of the same hitter may jump to new heights without him doing anything different if the fielding (pitching, catching) gets easier.  Similarly, the farmer’s productivity may jump to new heights without him doing anything different if the fertility of the fields he cultivates improves (as when he emigrates from Europe to America).

In other words, Jean Chrétien’s view is the more ‘complete’ view while George Bush’s view is based on the assumption that the ‘fielding’; i.e. the operating space, … is a passive medium that has no role in the ‘hitting achievement’, so that the ‘hitting achievement/result’ is due fully and solely to the hitter.

Entire world views that are very different, derive from this choice as to whether we see the living space as a passive medium or as an active medium.  This issue crops up in debates over evolution where Darwinism corresponds to the fundamentalist view (passive habitat where the inhabitant is fully and solely responsible for his achievements) and Lamarckism/Nietzscheism corresponds to the ‘liberal’ view (active habitat wherein a conjugate habitat-inhabitant relation prevails and the accommodating role of the habitat contributes together with the assertive role of the inhabitant and the respective contributions of the two cannot be separately measured).

Did the terrorists act solely from out of the evil in their hearts?   If we assume this is true, then we correspondingly assume that the conditions of the global living space that we are all partly responsible for, did not in any way help to ‘incite’ this angry/violent action, … since the ultimate animating source was in the interior of the perpetrators.

In this case, it makes total sense to concentrate our response on building defensive systems to prevent recurrence, regardless of whether those defensive systems aggravate ‘the power to humiliate’ that resides in the global commons.

But if the terrorists actions were incited by their feelings of humiliation arising from powerful others who came to exploit their lands and do as they please, infecting their culture with foreign degenerate cultural habits, sexual promiscuity, drinking etc., then the inquiry into the source/cause of the terrorism cannot stop at the ‘evil hearts’ in the interior of the terrorists.  [there is no judgement here, only inquiry into whether ‘the power to humiliate’ wielded by the victims of the terrorist attack could have played a role in inducing/sourcing the attack].

Today’s headlines, on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, consistently portray the terrorist acts of 9/11 as an event that ‘changed the world’, that notified us that ‘there is evil out there’ that is targeting America and the good people of the (powerful as in ‘big hitters’) G8 countries that contribute most to the global economy

But in the continually growing alternative news media, and in anarchist websites and in brochures, 9/11 is just a punctuation mark (a notably horrific one) in a continuing story, a story of a continually widening gap between rich and poor, powerful and disempowered, and the rising need to use police and military to squelch unrest that is coming from an outraged and in some cases, exasperated, public.

One example, a brochure written by 93 year old former French Resistance member Stéphane Hessel, entitled ‘Indignez Vous!’ (Be Outraged!), has found resonance with many people in France and around the world.  In it, Hessel observes that this is the time for outrage, for being outraged because;

“the disparity between poorest and richest has never been so great and amassing money, competition, never been so encouraged” … “the problem is the power of money, so much opposed by the Resistance, and of the big boldfaced, selfish man, with his own servants in the highest spheres of the State.”  Hessel further notes, in reference to Gaza, that “terrorism is a form of exasperation [exhaustion of ‘esperance/hope’]. … “terrorism” is a misnomer.  One should not have to resort to this exasperation, but it is necessary to have hope.  Exasperation is a denial of hope.  It is comprehensible, I would say it is almost natural, but it still is not acceptable.  Because it does not produce results that lead to the restoring of hope.”

Today, ten years after 9/11, Stephen Harper is now Prime Minister of Canada and has carried into the government, military and criminal justice system (police and law enforcement), the fundamentalist view wherein inquiry into the source of terrorism/criminality dead-ends inside of the terrorist/criminal, in his evil heart; “What was behind the events of Sept. 11 are the forces of evil and hatred…. These must be resisted by free and democratic societies and their leaders.”

The disparities between rich and poor, powerful and disempowered have never been greater and thus the use of police and military (‘the power of humiliation’) to hold back an outraged populace stonewalled by government in their demands for rebalancing actions, has never been greater.

Today, the focus is on remembrance in terms of remembering the victims of 9/11 and those such as the ‘first responders’ that tried to rescue them.  To be sure, there is also renewed resolve to never let this happen again.  But in the nine years since Jean Chrétien’s commentary on the first anniversary of 9/11, the popular view of the root source of terrorist activity has shifted away from ‘exasperation’ and its variant form, ‘terrorism’ that associate with ‘the power to humiliate’, in the direction of ‘evil hearts’.  Correspondingly, preventative measures have been increasingly one-sided, orienting to defensive systems that continue to build ‘the power to humiliate’ and hold in check ‘outraged people’ that, as Douglas Roche observed, become the spawning ground for desperate acts.

As Stéphane Hessel urges, we must hold on to our ‘outrage’ and allow it to fuel ‘peaceful insurrection’ that will restore the balances in our society, so that ‘the power to humiliate’ index will go into a natural decline, and with it, ‘exasperation’ and its variant form, ‘terrorism’.

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Note: ‘Those Who Walk Against the Wind’ is a Navajo expression, the title of the collection of writings in which Hessel’s ‘Indignez Vous!’ is included and which captures the image of ‘the Resistance’, the ‘outraged ones’