The Nation, July 2008

7 July– Alexander Cockburn points out the shortcomings of the late Tim Russert; Jon Wiener derides efforts to depict the University of California at Irvine as a hotbed of anti-semitism.

14 July– In “The Subprime Swindle” Kai Wright shows that many of those now facing foreclosure because of exotic mortgages are African-American, and argues that those mortgages have had the effect of siphoning away a tremendous share of the accumulated wealth of black America.  Stuart Klawans recommends the film Full Battle Rattle, a documentary about a military training exercise in California meant to simulate conditions in Iraq.   

21/28 July– Naomi Klein labels the current state of our political economy “disaster capitalism” and identifies its main instrument of persuasion as extortion.  The rise of private firefighting firms enables the rich to threaten to shut down public fire departments that serve the rest of us; the deal the big oil companies have made in Iraq, apparently giving them right of first refusal on future drilling, puts them in a position to threaten to shut down oil supplies; genetic modification gives seed producers the power to starve the world.  Klein doesn’t have much faith in the power of market mechanisms to rein in the rich, but then why should she.  

In the same issue, U Penn classicist Emily Wilson reviews John Tipton’s translation of Sophocles’ Ajax.  The play puts her in mind of war’s psychological effects.  “[B]y denying the opposition any humanity, and therefore making them killable, we risk making ourselves something less than human.”  When Ajax responds to a slight by setting out to kill his fellow Greek warriors at Troy, the gods delude him into mistaking a herd of sheep for his companions.  He slaughters them with great efficiency.  Classicists used to call this slaughter “the Ovicide” (from the Latin ovis, meaning “sheep.”)  The Ovicide (Wilson doesn’t mention the term, and it is extremely old-fashioned, but I’m rather fond of it)  occurs before the play, which focuses on Ajax’ attempt to come to terms with the fact that he has made a fool of himself.  In Ajax’ torment, Wilson sees a symbol of every warrior whose training and formation have stripped him of the ability to distinguish between human and not-human.

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  1. cymast

     /  September 26, 2008

    ” . . every warrior whose training and formation have stripped him of the ability to distinguish between human and not-human.”

    I wonder how close the psychological environment of basic training is to the psychological environment of childhood abuse/neglect. I also wonder if governments are researching ways to breed sociopaths for use in warfare.

  2. acilius

     /  September 26, 2008

    I don’t know, but I’d be surprised if an abusive parent who had been through military training didn’t draw on that background to come up with new and more devastating ways to hurt his/ her victims. And I’m certain that all of the world’s defense ministries are continuously researching ways to turn people into sociopaths.

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