Scahill Scam Syndrome: Characters vs. Radicals

Special note: The thrust of this article will be reduced to two brief paragraphs upon request. With no guarantees respecting what's lost in translation, of course. Following the writing of this piece, I did abscond with Scahill's -Exile on K Street- (2/20/06); the quotations and comments directly below were then added.

-The new lobbying reform bandwagon circling Washington is like those rubber bracelets made popular by Lance Armstrong — soon everybody made one with their own meaning and by the end none of them meant anything.— Jeremy Scahill, not drawing the obvious parallel –underscored in -Scahill Scam Syndrome— with the works of activists.

A new Nation article features work by Jeremy Scahill, urging readers to -collect 'em all,- the Republican scandals-in the form of cards. Something like that. I couldn't be bothered to actually pick up the piece. But the images of playing cards on the cover said it all. Bush's Most Wanted Iraqi Funny Cards Turned Upside Down.

A collection of Republican characters for radicals?

Please. No one is more well-intentioned than JS, courageous/intelligent/ethical etc.-in the extreme. Quite moral. I mean, this is a guy who –in a heartbeat– would fast with the Berrigan brothers. Starve. So why the waste of heartbeats?

It amounts to a Scam of Scandalous Proportions, this theme of collection. It's momentarily humorous, of course. And the funny bone would continue to be tickled if it all didn't reflect, sadly, what the Left is involved in, in fact. Incessantly.

The icicle down my spine is formed from frozen time among -the progressives.- Being around the redundancy, the lack of awareness respecting what might actually move people to action. The preoccupation with documenting what's already clearly established -definitively- in the historical record. How many -Omigod!-s do we need?

More scandals and easy humor hits won't turn the trick, I assure you. Won't tell us what makes the Bad Stuff tick. Or help us to pick up the pieces. Hump The Dumper.

And here's where, perhaps, we have to take the (Budding) Best of the Best –JS– and associate him with The Scam-as per my title, a self-scamming scam. You see, courageousness, ethicality and intelligence don't necessarily help one in the area of awareness. Least of all respecting self-awareness.

It's somewhat like that old notion about the road to Hell being paved with Good Intentions. We don't have time to collect cards. To read articles by cards.

My articles are invariably about doing something, focusing on what readers can actually lay their hands on, implement ASAP. In that vein, I recommend –oddly enough– that someone recommend to the supporters of Nation and the like that they stop saving the world for a bit, and git off of their spinning globe, putting career moves and musts on hold for a moment.

To wit, set aside some time to consider the relative value of scale. Proportion. That goes for everyone from Sacred Paul Newman to Amy Goodman's Angel, JS.

The vast majority of so-called activists are involved in stuff that's the size of the Statue of Liberty, Claes Oldenburg's Giant Hamburger. Y'know the really -big stuff- like Elections and Petitions and Marches and Front Pages and so on. Scoops on Poops.

Whereas-a small scale sculpture like The Saint Padmasambhava –from an unknown Tibetan artist of the 17th century– is more intimate, more involving potentially. You have to study it carefully just to see what it is. Numbers and broad, unexamined successes rule another realm. What's worthy of God, if you will, lies in the details. I'm not speaking of anything that has anything to do with organized religion here, but rather-simply what's worthy. A play on that old phrase about The Devil only.

It's a devilish business, these huge organizational operations on The Left, the momentum of multiple careers being rammed down people's throats in lieu of really helping to feed them. Food for the sake of eating and beating down The Powers, not for (innovative) thought, deep feeling.

One can too easily miss the fact of a full cup in the left hand of the Buddhist saint, the dorje in his right-and fail to take the time to to take in the meaning of his thunderbolt, the eyebrows-in-scowl and/or the fierce concentration.

He was on a mission to rid Tibet of demons. In fact, he did so through special prayers and ritual acts, not by what you might expect. Today-his earrings, unusual hat and cape would doom his efforts long before they could be considered by those in need.

And, in part, by well-intentioned activists incapable of considering History they have no inkling of-. Mired as they are only in The Moment of Injustice and/or their own righteousness. Or perhaps simply as a result of what the Chinese call Mohist thought-from the school that attributed such importance to -accomplishment- (kung), placed such emphasis on -profitableness- (li).

Maybe it's all in motion –this no-time-to-look-up-words-momentum, no heartbeats for foreign history beyond the secondary sources or western-oriented blah blah– 'cause it's so difficult these days for readers to truly nourish themselves. Get in touch with much. Y'know the old bit about succumbing to saving the world to avoid oneself.

Yet-this is not a plea for activists to begin a Twelve-Step Program designed to Smell the Flowers. Rather, it's an effort to underscore the importance of The Self over and above the many selves on the shelves all over the world. Not an argument for Quietism, but a scream for Equal Time between dream masks and Face Behind The Mask.

Perhaps jade would be a good place to start. A fading out from fighting. A badly needed vacation of sorts. Of the Mind's Eye kind. The following is not 60s pseudo anything. What you'll see next is the result of much-too-neglected ideas (among most activists) from millenia down the road:

-In the turning of time back and forth
the gaps are not enough to draw breath in.
Too soon and you’ve gone too far;
too late, and you can’t catch up.

Now, the moon revolves as the sun retires,
and the hours do not travel alongside humankind.
Therefore the sage does not consider a foot of jade-
but values an inch of time.-

Jade carvings-as a rule, are very smooth, pleasant to touch. Hard-so hard-jade cannot be cut with metal, but must be worn away by grinding.

So hard to come by, this necessary Moment With Oneself in the Eye of the Storm.

I wish the well-meaning Scahills would get rid of the Nation notion that they have time to grind away at the Bad Guys. Our ills. (And that they are needed-all the time.)

Regardless, they lie not Out There, the demons.

Chinese artists were making elegant jade carvings as long ago as six thousand years. And, as I write this, I am looking at one, Reclining Camel, by another unknown artist-third to tenth century. Enjoying its exotic, amusing, lively aspects. In private.

That's what those stuck in the unacknowledged Syndrome could use, the magical power of a jade carving in their back pocket. Or perhaps pressed close to an organ.

Something small-like they are.

Like we all are.

For a tiny moment-that then might lead to-true solidarity.

If we juxtapose the Chinese radical for -large- with the character for -family- we obtain -people- or -everybody-: the great family of the nation, of mankind, an ideal concept of universality too often forgotten nowadays.

And it will remain forgotten for all practical purposes as long as activists don't make the time to distinguish between, say, radicals-and characters.

Richard Oxman,, usually posts the most updated versions of his recent work at The Ox is currently living in Los Gatos, California. He thanks Edoardo Fazzioili and Andrew Pekarik for -assistance- in preparing this article. Alvetina Rea's might serve as a decent companion piece to the above, especially if the reader notes the serendipity of the author having read it following the completion of what's here.