‘The Deep State Now and Then’, a brilliant essay by Edward Curtain


As we wait for news of a possible ‘civil war’ in Venezuela, I thought this would be a wonderful break for us.  I’d emailed Edward Curtain a few days ago to ask for his permission to post the entire essay, but as he hasn’t responded, I’ll borrow the beginning, then add a few titled sub-headings and some passages that may pique your interest enough to read it all.  It’s seriously worth your time in my not-so-very humble opinion.  ;-)

“…since grasping the present from within is the most problematic task the mind can face.”

~ Frederic Jameson

“Have you ever seen a photograph of yourself from the past and laughed or grimaced at the way you were dressed or your hair style? It’s a common experience.  But few people draw the obvious conclusion about the present: that our present appearance might be equally laughable.  The personal past seems to be “over there,” an object to be understood and dissected for its meaning, while the present seems opaque and shape-shifting – or just taken-for-granted okay.  “That was then,” says the internal voice, “but I am wiser now.”  Historical perspective, even about something as superficial as appearance, rarely illuminates the present, perhaps because it makes us feel ignorant and unfree.

This is even truer with political and social history.

In recent years there has been a spate of books and articles detailing the CIA’s past Cold War cultural and political propaganda efforts, from the creation of the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF) with its string of magazines, to its collaboration with many famous writers and intellectuals, including Peter Matthiessen, George Plimpton, Richard Wright, Irving Kristol, et al., and its penetration and working relationships with so many publications and media outlets, including The New York Times, the Paris Review, Encounter, etc. These exposés show how vast was the CIA’s propaganda network throughout the media and the world, and how many people participated in the dirty work.

Joel Whitney, in his recently published book, Finks: How the CIA Tricked the World’s Best Writers (the word “tricked” ignores the eager accomplices), tells this scandalous story in illuminating detail.  His account informs and nauseates simultaneously, as one learns how the CIA penetrated NGOs, television, universities, magazines, newspapers, book publishing, etc., finding willing collaborationists everywhere – scoundrels eager to spy on and betray even their friends as they deceived the public worldwide; how well-meaning leftist writers such as Ernest Hemingway and Garcia Marquez were tricked into lending their names and work to propaganda publications; how leftists were set against leftists in an elaborate effort to sow paranoia and confusion that could be used to put the Soviet Union in the worst possible light; and how many front organizations were created to secretly funnel money to support these endeavors and make and break careers.  The story makes your skin crawl.

But that was then.  What about now?  Whitney doesn’t say, presumably because he doesn’t know; doesn’t have documentary evidence to name names.  This is not a criticism.  He does say that “we understand vaguely that our media are linked to our government still today, and to government’s stated foreign policy,” and he wonders if the ideology that drove the CIA’s past endeavors “remains with us. (I am reminded of Emerson’s words: “What you do (or don’t) speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.”).  Despite his use of tepid language about the present, especially that word “vaguely,” it seems that Whitney thinks similar propaganda activities are going on today, which is why a blurb for Finks at his publisher’s website (OR Books) and at amazon.com by James Risen of the New York Times, who has written two books about the CIA, strikes such an odd note.  It reads:

It may be difficult to believe that the American intellectual elite was once deeply embedded with the CIA.  But with Finks, Joel Whitney vividly brings to life the early days of the Cold War, when the CIA’s Ivy League ties were strong, and key American literary figures were willing to secretly do the bidding of the nation’s spymasters.

“Difficult to believe.”  For whom?

“Once.”  When? In the bad old days?

“When the CIA’s Ivy League ties were strong.” Does the CIA now recruit from community colleges?

Are these the good old days?  Such language usage makes one wonder: is it just a quickly scribbled blurb or carefully chosen words?”

The Future is Now

“Fifty years ago the CIA coined the term “conspiracy theory” as a weapon to be used to dismiss the truths expressed by critics of its murder of President Kennedy, and those of Malcom X, MLK, and RFK.  All the media echoed the CIA line.  While they still use the term to dismiss and denounce, their control of the MSM is so complete today that every evil government action is immediately seconded, whether it be…” (a long list that you’re only too familiar with).

Denying Existential Freedom

We have been told interminably that our lives revolve around our brains (our bodies) and that the answers to our problems lie with more brain research, drugs, genetic testing, etc. It is not coincidental that the U. S. government declared the 1990s the decade of brain research, followed up with 2000-2010 as the decade of the behavior project, and our present decade being devoted to mapping the brain and artificial intelligence, organized by the Office of Science and Technology Project and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. How convenient! George H. W. Bush, Clinton, George W. Bush, Obama, Trump — what a difference! But this is science and the welfare of the world.  Science for idiots.”

Terrified to See the Current Truth?

“The same liberal (““liberal” Democrats – those whose bibles are the New York Times, NPR, The Washington Post, Democracy Now, etc.”) media that served the CIA so admirably over the decades became the media that became liberals’ paragons of truth.  Why?”

Curtin references two articles that appeared side by side in the May 28 The New York Times Magazine, demonstrating the masterful manipulative juxtaposition of cultural and political propaganda.  First he describes a story on Syria’s “civil war” in Aleppo, Freedom Fighters, or: the lie that becomes the truth, especially when there are photos with deceptive, agitprop captions.

But just ahead of Worth’s ‘report’ is Molly Young’s “Empire of Dust” by Molly Young.  No, not the disintegration of the Amerikan Empire, but featuring goddess/guru Amanda Chantal Bacon and the rise of the wellness industry, pictured sitting in a lotus pose in her flowing white silk garments on a marble kitchen counter top; O, so epicurean and tasteful!  You can have the good life, too!  Focus your discerning eyes here, pampered readers!

“Young begins by telling the reader, “The amount of time I waste finding and consuming alternative-medicine supplements for ‘brain function’ has made me at least 10 percent dumber, and that paradox is not lost on me.  It was that impulse that made me pause last year at a fancy store in Brooklyn when I spotted a glass jar labeled ‘Brain Dust’.”  From there Young takes us to Los Angeles, where she interviews the lifestyle guru Bacon, and we hear about Spirit Dust, Beauty Dust, Sex Dust, vaginal steaming, spirit truffles, and sunbathing the vagina, and to the Hamptons where she again spots Brain Dust in an expensive store that also sells “boeuf-bourguignon-flavored dog biscuits.” Young, having traversed the golden triangle – Brooklyn, L.A., and the Hamptons – tells us how Bacon captures her imagination even as she “was ashamed of its capture.” She drinks Power Dusted coffee with the Moon Juice founder who tells her, “I was told growing up in NYC that I had learning disabilities and mental illness. That was all the rage in the ‘90s.” (Presumably they are raging no longer.)”

Stylish Substance Abuse

“Everything has become style today, and no doubt the CIA has learned that the trick is to hide truthful substance behind the style. Evidence is beside the point.  Just assert things in a slick style.  Assert them repeatedly, even when they have been proven false or fraudulent. Sex Dust and Power Dust may be absurd con jobs, but they sell.  They meet a “need,” a need created by the society that has slyly equated power with sex for a population that has been convinced they have neither and need drugs to endow them with both.”

“In a “wellness culture,” it has to have style. Today the only time you hear the word substance, is in “substance abuse,” which is fitting.”

Edward Curtin is a writer whose work has appeared widely.  He teaches sociology at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. His website is http://edwardcurtin.com/

The rest is here, and I hope you enjoy the show; I sure as hell did.

I’d sent it to J, and he steered me to René Girard’s writings and especially his theory on mimetics.  This is a brief introduction, including this pithy quote:

Man is the creature who does not know what to desire, and he turns to others in order to make up his mind. We desire what others desire because we imitate their desires.’

“…Girard realized that people don’t fight over their differences. They fight because they are the same, and they want the same things. Not because they need the same things (food, sex, scarce material goods), but because they want what will earn others’ envy.  Since people tend toward the same objects of desire, jealousy and rivalry are inevitable sources of social tension — and perfect themes for the great novelists.”

I’m not convinced altogether, as ‘man’ is not monolithic, and so many questions and counter-arguments can arise, especially with a class analysis, counter-cultures within societies, the colonized and neo-colonized, etc., but his work certainly seems worth further exploration.  But in the “My bling is superior to your bling, thus I’m the King of Bling and its attendant Power” construct, yep, he’s right on the money.

This is ‘René Girard’s Mimetic Theory & The Scapegoat’, March, 2012

“The stories from the Hebrew and Christian texts seemed to have a slightly different perspective than those of other mythologies.  In these stories, the scapegoat was not always guilty.”  (fascinating comparisons)  Note the intriguing titles on the left sidebar; whooosh.

18 responses to “‘The Deep State Now and Then’, a brilliant essay by Edward Curtain

  1. Ha! In the comments under curtin’s most recent essay, ‘A Child’s Truth in a Country of Lies’, a commeter writes:

    ‘Rene Girard ( who is probably known to you ) has written extensively on how humans are almost irresistibly drawn by mimetic desires (desiring what others desire) leading them to conflicts. I found his work to be very enriching in understanding the behavior of man.. and how a major historical event has opened to humanity a door out of this dynamic.’ curtin answers: “Thanks, Betrand. I’ve read a bit of Girard, but will now go back and read more.”
    sweet, j. ;-)

  2. “Well” (to quote Raygun), I NEVER sought status symbols; simply my own pleasures. And while scapegoats are 0ften not guilty; BlingDing Judas goats Always ARE : http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2016/08/11/sen-bernie-sanders-buys-lakefront-home-for-nearly-600000.html His T’URD (cue faux Brooklyn accent) ! BS (Bull State) Bernie.

    • garsh, bruce; if the house had cost $6 million, it might be some sort of news, but $600K? shoot, houses here in bumfuck, colorado cost that much.

      i’m not following your question about an event and what DOOR?

  3. What’s the event and What D00R?

  4. as per mr. curtin’s ““liberal” Democrats – those whose bibles are the New York Times, NPR, The Washington Post, Democracy Now, etc.”) media that served the CIA so admirably over the decades became the media that became liberals’ paragons of truth.”….

    amy goodman actually just had on that banker i’d mentioned earlier, and er…laughed about: ‘Francisco Rodríguez, chief economist of Torino Capital. He’s the co-author of Venezuela Before Chávez: Anatomy of an Economic Collapse’ on the voting participation numbers, again:

    “Typically, when you participate in an election, you have witnesses, and you can contest the vote. The opposition didn’t have that. So, all that we have is an announcement of turnout by the government. And we really don’t know how credible it is.
    What I can tell you is that we carried out some independent exit polling in order to try to assess what the turnout was, and we got a turnout figure of about 19 percent. And, you know, if you think about it statistically, as with any polling, there is a confidence interval, so that number could have been 22, could have been 23, maybe it could have been 25. It couldn’t have been 42. That’s, essentially, statistically impossible.”

    how you get numbers from exit polling is…crazy. now you might get the truth of how someone voted (s in for whom).

    George Ciccariello-Maher was on, but then he writes at jacobin, so…yeah, he seemed pretty weak, all in all. but at least he tried to neutralize ‘the arrests’ of Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma; they were already under arrest, but had been permitted to be under house arrest until they violated the terms.

  5. lurkers? come out wherever you are… ;-) greyson smythe, i’d have thought this would be right i your wheelhouse, for instance.

  6. Garsh, Am I the only one reading your own comment : ‘.. and how a major historical EVENT has opened to humanity a D00R out of this dynamic.’ You quoting curtin about Bertrand on Girard.
    And Bern’s door at the lake is his THIRD and Most expensive, procured after HELL/DNC $ellout (John Fooking Kennedy, I never owned more than one (overpriced $100K tops) home At A TIME (Still extravagant for a [faux] populist like teh Bernster) !
    Therefore, Still looking for the event opening the door 0UT for US !

    • ack. it was a comment to edward curtin, forgive me. but i’d wondered myself about the door-opening event. one? i did scan the titles of gerard’s recent essays,hoping one might contain some hint. he’d died in 2012, iirc. maybe j might know the answer?

      a lot of his work had to do with psychopaths, and how to turn them into rocks or something, lol. O for a memory, bruce! i dunno, we hand-built ours, never owned a different one, and we used a hella lot of repurposed materials (some lasted, some didn’t, so it goes). but did you read the big news? he’s actually factually having his team build a new medicare for all bill to introduce…soon.

      door out for amerika…any thoughts? mine are kinda dark just lately to a massive global movement of higher conscious ‘waking people like lions’.
      dying empires are always at their most dangerous, history says.

  7. think dr. phil & oprah are on the cia payroll? indirectly, absolutely. the system rewards its supporters, whose function is to obscure & misdirect. just look at how stupefying & benumbing day time TV is. the gun in the camera, as in Zero Dark 30, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. as the wsws pointed out a few days ago Jeff Bezos is richer than much of the planetary population combined b/c of the services Amazon provides to intel/dod types. you know, “competition,” “efficiency,” etc., all that capitalist b.s.

    on mimetic rivalry: in “crime & punishment,” one of the things the chief inspector does feeling out Raskolnikov is to discuss someone who came in & wept like a baby falsely confessing to the murder of the old woman, the pawnbroker. just how many Sons of Sam were there? lots. envy of the infamous attention a notorious person gets? maybe even envy of the guilt? if I can be guilty, I can be somebody? thereby one turns oneself into a scapegoat. maybe there’s some confirmation of Girard in the phenomenon of false confession?

    anyway, 3 hummingbirds are engaged in mimetic rivalry w/each other & the wasps at the bird feeder 10 ft away. funny how they all manage to emerge from this rivalry relatively unscathed. and happy. the landlord dumped gasoline all over an infelicitously placed wasp nest the other day. how are wasps to know not to set up shop next to the front porch? news flash: gas kills. everything. the spot is now dead. i hope the wasps learned their lesson. they sleep at night & so can easily be transplanted. nope. when I have slipped in upon these wasps, kill! kill! kill! kill! a few stragglers came back the next day & then went off to die. alone. how do the birds deal w/their rivals at the feeder? they make threat displays by swooping at the wasps. and wait for an opening.

    • as to O and ‘i’m not a real psychiatrist’ phil, this section knocked me out:

      “Investigator reporter John Rappoport has consistently exposed the propaganda involved in the creation and expansion of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) with its pseudo-scientific falsehoods and collusion between psychiatrists and the pharmaceutical industry. As he correctly notes, the CIA’s MKULTRA mind-control program has morphed into modern psychiatry, both with the same objectives of disabling and controlling people by convincing them that they are not free and are in need of a chemical brain bath.” partially cuz i’dd been emailing w/ someone who’d believed that passive/aggressiveness is an actual mental illness in the dsm IV. and by gosh, by golly, there it was! but i did try to remind him that the dsm exists to sell drug treatment plans for which there needs to be…an offishull diagnosis.

      so sure, ol’ doc phil makes a spectacle of tough love on O, doesn’t he? and whips those sobbing wimps into shape, i tell ya! their failures all in their brains! or w/ O: ‘check under your seats, peeps, for your free O gifts!’ consumer orgasms, ahhhhh…. equal happiness.

      funny stuff on the wasps and hummies, too. when we used to feed them, i called the rufous whatever ones ‘the praetorian guards’. bam! crash! (slurp).

      ima go stick up a new VZ diary; it’s getting more serious. thanks, doctor drillerson, for your estimable ‘diplomacy’.

      • yes, great quote. I wonder what “mental illnesses” watching hummingbirds alleviates? don’t expect the DSMR 5.1 to offer any guidance.

      • makes one ocd for whatever nectar they are drinking. eh, maybe not. do they sleep? does their heart rate dip below 200 bpm when they do so? pure joy to watch, but I would not want to be reincarnated as one. looks exhausting.

        • dunno if they sleep, but iirc, they can fly a thousand miles across oceans with no stops. what you’d posited about mimetics an false confessions got me to wondering if, in a similar way, munchausen and munchausen by proxy syndromes might fit into the rubric in a twisted way.

          • them & the butterflies. enjoy ’em while they last!

            what isn’t mimesis? like the guy bro’t up on adultery charges in ancient Athens whose defense was, “the gods do it.” esp. that father of gods & men guy, zeus pater. only partially j/k. what human behavior falls outside of mimesis? well, I suppose if we all blow each other up, the mimetic rivalry will be over. damn. we are on the road to nowhere.

            “we made a tremendous gamble…and we won!” yeah, what do we win, president Truman, for our nukular achievements? talk about trying to make something out of nothingness. who will be around to put that gold star by our name, President Dumbass? (thinking of that vimeo davidly posted on another thread…) “I am become Vishnu, destroyer…”

  8. The plot is really getting scrambled in the media of late. One of my signs of some political realignment going on. One of my signs of national covert operations information wars going on closer to the surface than they ever have and with less interest(?) or ablity(?) to conceal. Effectively, what we used to think of as journalism has been shut down with some exceptions and even those exceptions have very narrow ground to stand on and very narrow options for distribution. Ax-grinding journalism has become de rigeur.

    Hersh, with the accusation of a comment about Seth Rich is an interesting situation. A story like that is outside of Hersh’s normal beat but possibly in the scope of some of his sources. Like a lot of other people, I’m not attributing it to Hersh yet even though it does come through George Washington Blog.

    Curtin is too general, academic, and oblique for my reading at the moment (not easily scanned). Not sure how it relates to the notion of a deep state (as opposed to routine covert operations and propaganda under the direction of chief executives).

    The idea of a deep state is very much like the idea of the idea of a deep corporation that actually gets the product delivered in spite of the leadership or chain of command. Except in the deep state, the product is covert action and propaganda and the worker bees are some collected aggregate of mid-level or working-level intelligence analysts, propaganda writers, and covert operators who shape the view of the outside world to the missions they want to take on, whether those missions are needed or not. As a consequence it can operate independent of the US government, contrary to US government official policy, and US laws. Because it operates as a unauthorized and even hostile skunk works, it can carry out activities against the population of the US. Collaboration of the national leadership is not required; indeed the idea is that the deep state carries out operations to get the national leadership to buy their agenda instead of operating through legislation and delegation. That’s what makes it “deep” and what makes it of recent concern.

    My sense looking at it from a black-box atomic-pile (remember that game of hidden shapes sensed by how far dowels went into a cube) perspective is that the deep state is not monolithic in any country. There is a deep and constant struggle between several deep state agendas open to a variety of covert operation and informal economy effect (spies and criminals-private, government, and NGO). Contending missions, strategies, and potential armed conflicts arising from the people employed in carrying them out instead of from any sort of national consensus — of military, of political chain-of-command, of powerful interests, With compliant leadership, like Truman in Italy, Greece, Turkey, and Korea; Ike in Iran, Guatemala, and Vietnam; Kennedy with the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba; Johnson (how pliant could one President be); Kissinger/Nixon in Cambodia and Laos; Brzezinski/Carter in Afganistan and the Middle East–you get the picture–those “deep state” agendas occasionally surface and become policy. Otherwise they are the festering that creates the crisis. The crisis is then used to yank around the leadership (except when the leadership comes in wanting to do some yanking.)

    The realignment has brought the deep state struggles to the surface; they are more visible to analysts and more subject to leaks in the hidden politics of the deep state.

    Watch how Hayden, Brennan, Lang, Hersh’s sources, other known former spooks tack in their analysis of events to the extent that they make public pronouncements. They are not aligned all in the same direction. Suspend judgment about “good” or “bad” until you see clearly the political dance they are doing.

    Yes, this hidden politics likely has been there since the Colonial governors in settlement. A lot of the private letters, and what makes them interesting to historians, are polite messages in the “deep state” dynamic of the times.

    Yes, the Cold War story about objective journalism was both aspirational (after the McCarthy scandal played out) and covered the journalist-intelligence agency links in almost every country. It’s more apparent now. The difficulty is having a point-of-view that can be critical and posses authority to persuade; the illusion of “just the facts, ma’am” short-circuited that quite nicely.

    • i don’t know the black box game, but i think i see why you use it as analogous. this is great: “Collaboration of the national leadership is not required; indeed the idea is that the deep state carries out operations to get the national leadership to buy their agenda instead of operating through legislation and delegation”, but isn’t it more that the competing deep states are in competition?

      here’s zuesse’s version w/ the stomach roiling transcript (no para breaks, arrrrg, i may try it later): ‘Seymour Hersh Cracks ‘RussiaGate’ as CIA-Planted Lie — Revenge Against Trump’, August 2, 2017
      http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2017/08/68873.html

      wsws.org has been digging into the ‘impressions’ of google’s search algorithms, and found how many sites (’13 leading socialist, progressive and anti-war web sites’) are tanking in #s of impressions. this recent one is kinda funny, considering the top tier on down. oddly, this new calculation seems less severe than earlier ones. but still…

  9. oh, my; i’m sorry, thd, this is too much for me to read for now. but yes, too much is not hidden, but right up front, even though so full of lies and distortions and dare i say: evil? i suspect what i loved about curtin’s piece was in fact its subtlety, as in: no cointelpro is needed today, as that most amerikans willingly give themselves over to propaganda, yet they don’t see it as such since it’s been brewed and steeped in the background for such a long time. when we’re uncomfortable, worried, afraid, we go for bigPharma meds.

    and yes, clearly there are competing deep states, as we’ve seen more clearly with this administration’s ubiquitous palace coups right out i the open, esp. on..twitter? ye gods and little fishes, it’s all so surreal.

    more later, but i need some rest; i wiki-wiki-wake up at 4 these days. oh, and nice to see you; i’d actually gone to explore ‘electricity outages in NC’, but of course they were on the offshore islands.

    got a sink full of basil (yum) to pluck, shock, and freeze, too.

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