Fisk's American Working-Class Dilemma
February 22, 2003
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
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
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
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
punpirate is a New Mexico writer who is confounded by the
likes of the American right wing, as is Robert Fisk.