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What makes these people tick?

By Michael J. Smith on Friday April 1, 2011 09:27 PM

There was an item in the NY Times a couple of days ago, about Samantha Power, shown above. I found it quite disturbing, somewhat to my surprise.

Surprise, because one thinks one knows these people. One imagines that they're just Pecksniffs -- cynical opportunists affecting a moral cover, and laughing at anybody who takes it seriously. But the reality is quite different -- and much, much worse.

It looks like Power really believes what she's saying. There really is something going on in her head which appears to her, subjectively, as a passionate humane concern for the victims of "genocide" -- a very broad term, in Powers' lexicon. But this tender passion coexists with, and feeds, a thirst for violence -- or at least a capacity for fantasizing about violence -- that might evoke the admiration of a Genghis Khan.

Let's think a bit about Samantha's ideal humanitarian world. In that world, there would have been even more wars in the twentieth century than there actually were.

Surely, you exclaim, most sane people would agree that there were enough -- and then some? Not for Samantha. Samantha appears to think that something should have been "done" about Armenia in 1915, about Cambodia, about Rwanda; something should have been done about Iraq, earlier than it was, and more, apparently, should have been done, and sooner, even in poor hapless Yugoslavia, that locus classicus for the benign effects of "Western" involvement. Oh and of course something should certainly be done about Darfur.

In short, Samantha fantasizes a world in which "the West" -- or maybe just the US -- is constantly occupied in sending the gendarmerie here and there, to do good for a change, rather than evil as has nearly always heretofore been the case.

We might spend a moment here on the childlike naivete of imaging that a leopard can not only change his spots, but actually turn into an ibex -- an ibex who retains the sharp teeth and claws of the leopard, but who has converted to a vegan diet, and embraced a mission to defend other peaceful quadrupeds everywhere from its former fellow-leopards.

For Samantha, US or "Western" might, now partly at her disposal qua courtier of the God-Emperor, is a neutral instrumentality, like, say, a tire iron, which Samantha and her fellow-courtiers have found lying around and fallen to arguing over. Look! A tire iron! What shall we do with it? It might be used for good -- to change a tire, say -- or for evil, to bash in somebody's head. To be sure, it might be dangerous in the wrong hands; but it's not a thing with a life and purposes of its own -- not an organism, with desires and needs, with teeth and claws designed to rend flesh rather than grind grain. Turn it this way, turn it that; use it for good, use it for evil; but in any case it doesn't have a mind of its own.

Silly, huh? And yet this flattened-out view of the world is nearly universal, among citizens of the empire who have run the elite university gauntlet and achieved positions of responsibility and emolument.

The world is all before us, they think, open to our activity -- and they think this because they are seeing the world from the imperial point of view. And there is no problem that can't be solved with intelligence and sedulous study -- and they think this because they did so very well on their SATs.

Oh, there are the well-understood laws of nature, conceived as something entirely external to ourselves -- laws which we understand so well that we have bent nature to our will, and even our whim. There are good people and bad people, smart people and stupid people. The bad and stupid may oppose us, who are the good and the smart; for the stupid we have schools, and for the bad -- we have the Marines.

But there are no alien powers, or more to the point, there is no alienation of our own powers, taken away from us and formed into something that confronts us as a foreign, autonomous, and inimical force. It certainly would never occur to Samantha that her zeal might just be fueling a monster from the imperial id, as in Forbidden Planet:

I have to return for a moment to the strange duality that I think we see in Samantha's nature -- the tears for the Armenians, alongside the insatiable desire to scramble the jets. Oh, there's no logical contradiction; but there has got to be something peculiar going on emotionally.

Samantha must have some idea what wars are really like -- or if she hasn't, she's systematically passed up the many opportunities she's had, in the course of her studies, to take it in. And no wonder. Such an awareness, once entertained, would create a severe conflict with her save-the-children side. So she constructs an impoverished and sanitized conscious view of what "military action" entails; it allows her to revel in the idea, without acknowledging the underlying sadism which alone can explain these extravagant fantasies of incessant bloodshed.

Her love of genocide victims -- very, very broadly defined; the more the better, since more victims justifies more war -- is really quite genuine. It's not assumed as a con-man's mask. Its taproot goes very deep, right into the heart of her nature, into whatever repressed boiling fury made her want to kill kill kill; gave her that gaunt haunted facies; makes her eyes dart sideways and up when she's talking to you. She's not trying to fool us; rather, her sadism is hiding itself from her, and manifesting itself to her as love and concern for the victim -- which, of course, implies annihilation or the penal colony for the perp. The annihilation is the ultimate object of desire, but the secondary cathexis of the victim is, as far as it goes, quite real.

And this, of course, is the disturbing part. A Pecksniff doesn't force us to recall Freud's harsh but accurate observation that we are not masters in our own psychic house. Samantha, on the other hand, is frightening not just because of the horrors she would like to commit. To invert one of Dr Johnson's observations, she diminishes our conception of the powers of humankind.

Comments (29)


Nice post
I note this Jansenist projected her inner monster on to poor nixonian striver Hillary

And of course these shadowy brutes she urges the haute bourgeois elite
To search the globe to destroy

Johnny q not withstanding
She is indeed a type worth long study like that other Merit Cinderella
Irish sadist pat moynihan

This is the fine, fine work, Mister Smith.

If you missed it below, there's an org. for these people (and a stupid, stupid label which demonstrates ironic levels of self-ignorance):


It should come as no surprise, then, that people like Charli Carpenter love it, and Samantha Power.


Jack one my call you a flatter muffin these days

Vis a vis father you take on an osric cast


...Irish sadist pat moynihan

Ah yes, reminds me of why her face seemed familiar.

There are a goodly number of people morbidly interested in things like torture and execution in the against evil NGOs:

The "Srebrenica massacre" is part of a dominant culture discourse that goes like this: We people in the advanced democracies have reached a new moral plateau, from which we are both able and have a duty both to judge others and to impose our "values" when necessary. The others, on a lower moral plateau, must be watched carefully, because unlike us, they may commit "genocide". It is remarkable how "genocide" has become fashionable, with more and more "genocide experts" in universities, as if studying genocide made sense as a separate academic discipline. What would all these people do without genocide? I wonder what is behind the contemporary fascination with genocide and serial killers, and I doubt that it is a sign of a healthy social psychology.


In a migraine cycle, I cannot work up druthers. Plus, I just liked it.


Johnstone is a gem stone sk


Nice comment, but I could have done without the Freudian dimension. "cathexis" sets my teeth on edge -- worse than "reification"!

As I think Louis Project says elsewhere, she's an imperialist so she thinks like an imperialist. We don't need to analyse them, anymore than we analyse people who belong to golf clubs. Imperialism is a language and a mind-set; once you learn it, it thinks for you.

She is, or at least used to be, Cass Sunstein's fuck-buddy too. What a couple.


Johnstone has also commented in passing on the capacity to bypass, or at least numb into "limp-home mode", all critical faculties by the "new civil religion of the western world", which was ladled out in heaping doses to Samantha Power's generation in their formative years:

...it has contributed to the sacralization of the Holocaust, or “Shoah”, which has increasingly been regarded less as an historic event than as a sacred dogma. In a secular state where traditional religions are excluded from public schools, only the Shoah demands both the mental and emotional adherence traditionally reserved for religion.


The disoriented imaginary thus engendered and accompanying guilt trip has consequences on how political crises in, say, Africa are perceived:

In recent times, many Western experts and commentators have lost the capacity to analyze and interpret events in Africa and Asia by using conventional political concepts. Instead, conflicts tend to be interpreted through a new political model that was constructed during the post-Cold War upheavals in the Balkans and Rwanda.

This new view of conflicts in the South and the East is based on a disoriented Western imagination, which discusses political violence through dramatic and sensationalist metaphors, such as 'Holocausts', 'Genocides', 'Ethnic Cleansing' and 'Mass Rape Camps'. Consequently, when it comes to violence in Africa or Asia, genocide has become the default diagnosis of events. From the Congo to Darfur to Kenya, bloody conflicts are recast as harbingers of holocaust.

Through today's promiscuous use of the term 'genocide', conflicts become transformed into morality plays about human destruction, and tend to be seen as being both incomprehensible and inevitable. Western reporters see only a sudden, inexplicable outburst of violence—a kind of murderous descent into hell—and overlook the structural causes of crises in the Third World.


great post

It reminds me of Mencken's line:

"Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag and begin to slit throats."

I'm always suspicious of anyone who won't cop to that. It doesn't seem like Samantha is a uniquely sadistic person. She just sublimated the universal kill kill kill impulse very poorly, and consequently developed a case of cruise missile humanitarianism.

She's too far gone for faculty strength dosages of Mack the Knife, but a regimen of Tempa T in the morning and repeated Raining Blood listenings before bed could still yield results.


One has to wonder what turns a soul towards human rights intervention
versus humanitarian assistance

Obviously the aggressive temporament barring other powerful counter currents flows toward the sheriff option

Then there's the question of why uncle's enemies and not uncle himself
Uncle human rights violator number UNO
And easy at hand for a citizen of sam's nation such as she is

Ambitions brimstone ?
The life of a winner at the center of the big time action
A place at the game table millions only dream of?
And no doubt quite gratifying

I can't say what would have been my fate if I'd not been so lazy and undisciplined

Judge not eh?

Better to attack the system then it's cast of players
We hear that now and again

But where's the fun in that if you can't clip a few monsters
Now and again


"lazy and undisciplined"

My salvation, too. Er, well that, and the more horrifying possibility of Nietzschean core weakness

"Then there's the question of why uncle's enemies and not uncle himself"

If we're judging here, then Samantha Power isn't a very difficult nut to crack.


She desperately wanted to fit in, and diligently practised her American accent in the mirror. Her second means of fitting in was to become a Pittsburghese sports nut and sports reporter. She never seems to have played any sports. I guess she finally wanted to get on the court and be accepted as a member of Team USA.


She just sublimated the universal kill kill kill impulse very poorly, and consequently developed a case of cruise missile humanitarianism.

I have always thought the idea that we are all murderers at heart deeply reactionary. If it were so, the military would not take such pains to turn soldiers into automatons and soldiers would not return from war with such deep psychic wounds.

Certainly, just about everyone can be driven into murderous fantasies about someone they truly loathe. That doesn't make them the equal of the professional moralist, who makes meting out violent justice their life's work. I think if you look at the history of moral crusades, sadism is exactly what's in play with the movers and shakers.

If Powers were a genuine do-gooder she would concern herself with root causes. But as I understand her, she is obsessed with making war on countries after they have been fucked beyond measure. Meanwhile, hubby Sunstein specializes in defining thought crimes and spreading propaganda. What a fucking pair.

PURE EVIL. There is no other word for these people.


Yup a homer to the end
Level headed clear minde
Loyal rugged low mantanence

I'd hire her
Industrious no doubt

a jock sniffer angle here
But a jock wanna be too makes it easy to
See why the " do something " impulse went muscle not mercy

But she has even less mission vocation then I'd imagined

Brimstone of ambition and a certain being there opportunism

Fairly standard bio I guess
Competitive aggression carried on by momentum of caree

I prefer the invented Samantha of Herr doctor smiff's depth analysis


Pure evil ?

Only in the Hannah arendt sense

Hubby Cuss fuck embodies
A greater piece of toxic amerikana

Shemale friggerfinger to her butch Mano a Mano with the killer brute act
Nice role inversions
And of course she let's him set the moral tone in their private life
She has coach craving up the ass


In fact the whole kill baby kill
Take is a bit too
Russ myers goes ivy league merit elite to me

This is a gal that wants to stand out by reporting the big story
The fact she's butch is not in the mirror
She just thinks the jock way is the cool way
And uncle needs a few good jocks
To operate his
Crimes against humanity department


Pure evil ?

Only in the Hannah arendt sense

Wrong. Hannah arendt referred to bureaucrats who follow orders. That is not what professional moralists do.

The look on that woman's face in the photographs scares the fucking bejeezus out of me. It's horrifying...

/Runs away screaming into the night


"Wrong. Hannah arendt referred to bureaucrats who follow orders. That is not what professional moralists do"

following orders or better
just doing a part of an evil
that obscures its totality
by compartmentalization
all true

but not what i was after

i refered to her celebrated
" banality of evil " observation

surely our dear samantha
is banal no ??
so that's half way there

not so strident please
you're mostly among
caring supportive friendly fools here
"The look on that woman's face ...."


look at fb provided video
she's far from freaky in motion
in fact she's tom boyish

and that thick saurian rachel maddow neck seems to compact itself down rather effectively

the lizard monster is well concealed eh ??

"and that thick saurian rachel maddow neck seems to compact itself down rather effectively "

Haha.. well put.

"the lizard monster is well concealed eh ??"

Oh yes, the deadlier to make it.


Before you wed yourself to the empire, it helps if you fall in love with it, or at least convince yourself you're mutually compatible. Human beings have an infinite capacity to rationalize anything. Being a self-made true believer helps.


ivory coast already surpasses libya in blood flow


the sivilizers groan in empathy

"we can't be everywhere at once ..eh ??"

black african blood of course is worth
every bit as much
in the high horse court of crimes against humanity

down that way blood flows are not for stopping however
they are for bottling
and storing in the mind

they're for doe eyed college kids

for seminar morality tales ..

grief and out rage ...after the fact

universal pre emption is impossible
but even if it were possible
massacres would be necessary eh ??

chants of

no more rwandas
no more rwandas

is a nice instance
of moral puking

errr lets add

no more ivory coasts

no more ivory coasts


no no you nihilists
don't take me as bitter
that would be simply too adolescent
i'm old and roughed over in the extreme

just face up to it

these black slaughter fests
are just what the empire ordered

they fail the intervention
cost benefit test
but a profit is turned none the less

libya gets the jets
but ivory coast gets to really bleed
the blood that seeps into the hearts
of genteel sivilized beings

folks so delicate they'll take any form
of rescue any where any time of any body
by any big time villain
and be thankful for it

"at least those innocent hapless spirits were spared "

it isn't that
"rwanda... never again "
just hasn't got the ring to it
of say
"bosnia never again " ...eh ??

this fundemental equality of blood
in the abstract flowing so unequally
in the event
i'm sure stresses out
dear madame sunstein nee powers

in fact billy clinton
hoarsely repeats over and over
" yes rwanda happened on my watch
......i have to live with that fact
....every day "


do you feel his pain folks ???


"Before you wed yourself to the empire, it helps if you fall in love with it'

can't be that much harder then being a yankee fan eh ??
if poor sam here had landed in nueva york
not pixburg she'd prolly have commited
that original sin

we are not only the prisoners of our brain meat and its blend of juices
we're thralls to our experience and
the action-reaction cha cha

our local others as selves and distant selves as others


her definition of genocide is broad, though not broad enough to include the crimes of the empire:


her pained expression when scahill disagrees with her is priceless. then of course she changes the subject.


"It is remarkable how "genocide" has become fashionable, with more and more "genocide experts" in universities, as if studying genocide made sense as a separate academic discipline. What would all these people do without genocide?"

What would they do if in one and having to fight against it - would they truly risk themselves by operating within the military side of a guerrilla org or?


i think you'll see genocide replaced with crimes against humanity

uncle needs more elbow room


of course if this indignant chap in the clip
had called clinton's containment of iran a massive crime against humanity
then our girl here with the nobby knees would have had to find a more difficult reframing then
billy had no intention to wipe out the iraqi people whole sale
ie he was not genocidally motivated only homocidally motivated

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