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Mr. Fisk's American Working-Class Dilemma
February 22, 2003
By punpirate

Robert Fisk's very recent article on his experience in taping a program at a Texas TV station is instructive for us all. The right wing doesn't communicate with the left. While Mr. Fisk thinks this a fault of the intellectual left, that this inability to get the message to the right is a problem distinct to intellectuals on the left, the truth is, it's more a problem related to propaganda.

At the outset, I need to say that Mr. Fisk's comments on the Middle East, a beat which he's been covering for about thirty years, is without parallel. There may be no other commentator on that region who's got a better handle on the politics of that region, nor one who can better put the politics of the Middle East in broader terms, or on more plaintive terms regarding the effects of international politics on the ordinary people of that region.

But, with regard to America, Mr. Fisk has got it wrong. Mr. Fisk still believes that America is composed of people who, right- or left-leaning, are willing to carefully consider the facts, and that the effete intellectual left simply cannot find a vocabulary with which to speak coherently with the working-class right.

As example, he cites an angry cameraman on a show in which he was a participant who said, "'I want to thank you, sir, for reminding us that the British had a lot to do with the chaos in the Middle East,' he said. 'But I have something else to say.'

"His voice rose 10 decibels, his bare arms bouncing up and down at his sides, his shaven head struck forward pugnaciously. 'Yeah, I wanna tell you that the cause of this problem is the fucking medieval Arabs and their wish to enslave us all - and I tell you that it is because we want to save the Jews from the fucking savage Arabs who want to throw them into the sea that we are about to fuck Saddam.' There was a pause as Don Darling looked at the man, aghast. And that, cameraman number two concluded, 'is the fucking truth.'"

Robert Fisk, in that moment, just had his first face-to-face with a freeper - someone who cared not about the facts, or the humanitarian concerns implicit in America's actions, or anything but what the current administration has said about war.

Robert Fisk missed the import in this fellow's comments that the British were at fault for the mess in the Middle East, and that such was the only point this fellow understood of what Fisk said. What Mr. Fisk didn't catch was that Britain screwed up, and that, in this cameraman's mind, it was up to the United States to fix that problem. As well, Mr. Fisk failed to grasp something fundamental about political discourse in this country - there is none between the left and the right.

The left here is frequently accused, both internally and externally, that its views are wholly without substance, and are intellectual and ethereal, and have no connection to the real world of the ordinary, working-class people. Robert Fisk repeats this charge in his Feb. 16th article for the Independent.

But, it's time to put this plainly. The right in the U.S. isn't interested in alternative views, or facts. While the left wishes to engage in an intellectual pursuit of a definitive logical reason for or against war, and for the current intentions of the present administration, the right, however, wants nothing more than to assert that the conservative view is, as Mr. Aykins asserts, "the fucking truth," whether or not what it asserts is the truth.

Robert Fisk is right in one sense. So much of what the left in the U.S. says is no more than preaching to the choir. But, what Mr. Fisk misses is that the right wing isn't even in the church. They choose not to hear anything of what the left says. They don't want to discuss, don't want to consider. They are wholly separate from ordinary discourse. The media in the U.S. has contributed to that in a way that Europeans and others around the world do not understand.

What Robert Fisk does not grasp of America is that there is a profound ideological schism in this country, and that it cannot be healed by the intellectual left - that the leftist intellectual faction can have no effect upon a body of opinion in the country which does not depend upon reason and intellect or common sense. The intellectual left depends only upon its available tools - reason, comprehension and the persuasion stemming from such, while the right in this country cares little for those tools. Ideology is paramount. Intellectual discussion is not.

Most importantly, it is not an intellectual fault of the left and center-left that does not drive the country to a common-sense position of anti-war, anti-fascism. Rather, it is the pronounced indifference of the right in the United States to consider international concerns and which drives policy further rightward. In fact, the U.S. right is determined in its efforts to make policy furthering U.S. empire. This will, ultimately, result in the destruction of the U.S. as an empire, but the right is unconcerned of that eventuality. If anything, the left in the country must drive home the long-term effects of what the Bush administration wants now, because the left does have a stronger sense of history than the current right-wing.

Robert Fisk is right in his plea for the intellectual left to reach out to the working class of the United States, but, he fails to understand the degree to which the American working class are divorced from the labor legacy of Europe, and the extent to which they are influenced by propanganda by the media in this country.

That said, a lot of people, intellectual left, working class, ordinary citizens, took to the streets around this country on Feb. 15th to protest war, and, more broadly, to object to the Bush administration. The profoundly right-wing amongst us stayed home.

There's a problem with generalizing from a particular. Mr. Fisk asks why the intellectual left of America cannot communicate with Gregg Aykins, the cameraman on the Texas television program on which Fisk appeared. The greater question might be why Mr. Fisk, as an acknowledged expert on the Middle East, could not communicate with Gregg Aykins, the cameraman, and sway him from his preconceived notions.

It might be that Mr. Aykins didn't want to be communicated with, and did not need any truth to interfere with his views. Mr. Fisk didn't change Aykins' views, despite his plain speaking about the situation in the Middle East. I doubt that the intellectual left will, either. That intransigence should be a lesson to us, and to Mr. Fisk, as well.

Truth is, some Americans are just plain stupid, venal and resistant to fact, and the intellectual left in this country shouldn't be blamed for being unable to bring enlightenment to those in our country who look up to Rush Limbaugh as an intellectual giant.


punpirate is a New Mexico writer who is confounded by the likes of the American right wing, as is Robert Fisk.

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